State of the Union: Has Obama Kept His Promises on Energy and the Environment?

A look back at what the president has promised, and whether he's followed through.

President Barack Obama speaks in March 2012 at a solar power plant in Nevada. Obama has made energy policy a key part of his State of the Union addresses.
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President Barack Obama heads to the U.S. Capitol Tuesday to deliver his 2014 State of the Union Address. Energy and the environment have figured prominently in each of his five addresses so far, but how well has he followed through on his promises?

U.S. News & World Report decided to take a look. Read on to check out the guide, then check back Tuesday morning for a preview of the energy and environment topics Obama is expected to bring up in his address that evening.


"Double this nation's supply of renewable energy in the next three years": Pass. The country's renewable energy capacity was 43.5 gigawatts in 2009. Doubling it would have meant increasing it to 87 gigawatts by 2012. While the U.S. just missed that goal by coming in 1.3 gigawatts shy, according to a report by Bloomberg, the administration essentially matched its stated objective. We give this one a pass. "Invest $15 billion a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America": Uncertain. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act alone, tens of billions were invested in clean energy efforts, but it's unclear how the administration would break down that figure by year.

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"New generation of safe, clean, nuclear power plants": Unclear. While five nuclear power plants have been slated for shutdown, officials expect at least four reactors to come online by 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration and news reports. Nevertheless, construction of new nuclear reactors has moved more slowly than anticipated - public interest initially waned after the Fukushima disaster in Japan in March 2011, and low natural gas prices have further discouraged energy companies from building new reactors.

"Very few in the industry are looking at a nuclear revival any time soon," Paul Sullivan, a professor of economics studying nuclear energy at Georgetown University, writes in an email.

That said, interest and funding has been growing for what are being called "small modular nuclear reactor." Combined with the four reactors that are already expected to come online – not to mention Obama's use of the vague term "new generation" – we're holding off on a verdict.

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"Become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015": On track. Electric vehicle sales proved strong in 2013, as more than 592,000 new hybrids and plug-ins hit the streets last year, the Electric Drive Transportation Association reported. More than 487,000, meanwhile, were sold in 2012. Assuming the administration includes sales from previous years when it calculates the number of electric vehicles that are "on the road," it should be well past the million-car mark by the start of 2015. "By 2035, 80 percent of America's electricity will come from clean energy sources": At risk. Projections by the Energy Information Administration show that up to 70 percent - and perhaps as little as 50 percent - of Americans' energy consumption will come from renewable, nuclear or natural gas resources by 2040. If so-called "clean coal" is included in the projection, the figure ticks up only slightly higher.


"Open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources": On track. The Obama administration has opened hundreds of millions of acres of ocean to oil and gas exploration in the past years. Under a five-year plan implemented by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the administration's goal should ultimately be met, says Jessica Kershaw, a spokeswoman for the Department of the Interior. "Allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power 3 million homes": Passed. The administration has expedited the permitting process for building dozens of clean energy plants on public land, which now put out more than 13,000 megawatts - enough energy to power more than 4 million homes. The goal now is to get to 20,000 megawatts by 2020.