State of the Union Preview: Energy and the Environment

Experts weigh in on what Obama may say on energy and environmental policy.

President Barack Obama addresses Congress in his 2013 State of the Union as Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner look on. Obama is scheduled to deliver his 2014 State of the Union on Tuesday night, Jan. 28, 2014.
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To meet the tighter standard, new plants most likely would need to install high-tech devices to capture and then store their carbon emissions.

No existing plants in the United States use the technology, but projects are underway to build smaller "demonstration plants" with carbon capture and storage devices in Mississippi and in Saksatchewan, Canada.

Nevertheless, industry leaders and their supporters, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have alleged that the stricter emissions standards amount to a "war on coal," forcing plants to install expensive devices that could ultimately force them to close.

Obama, experts say, likely will push back Tuesday night.

"I expect he'll speak to the administration's plan to keep moving forward on that," Bordoff says.

The Rest: Oil Imports, "Energy Independence," Renewables and Emissions, Resiliency

Imports: In November, the U.S. started producing more oil than it imports for the first time in almost 20 years, and in January, imports fell below 7 million barrels per day for just the second time in 14 years.

Domestic production is booming thanks in large part to "fracking," a hydraulic mining process in North Dakota and Texas that's attracted harsh criticism from environmental scientists and advocates for apparently poisoning and siphoning away local drinking water, setting off minor earthquakes and, when not conducted in conjunction with devices to capture methane emissions, releasing more harmful greenhouse gases than conventional drilling.

Nonetheless, the practice is a key facet in Obama's "all-of-the-above" approach to achieving "energy independence." It's also a provider of jobs in an economy still struggling with high unemployment.

"I expect him to emphasize that net imports of energy are down – the energy independence theme," says Jeremiah Johnson, a researcher specializing in energy policy at the University of Michigan.

Renewables and Emissions: Use of wind and solar power continues to rise, and greenhouse gas emissions, which ticked up 2 percent last year, are still roughly 12 percent lower than in 2005.

"He'll probably trumpet the growth of wind and solar, which have been expanding pretty rapidly," Johnson says.

Bordoff agrees.

"I suspect we'll hear more details about his plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," he says. "Energy security and climate change – I expect to hear about building on the administration's plans on both those successes."

Resiliency: With a wildfire and historic droughts in California this month, and parts of New York City still struggling to recover from 2012's Hurricane Sandy, "there may be some greater emphasis on infrastructure and resiliency and climate adaptation," says Steve Cohen, director of Columbia University's Earth Institute.

The State of the Union address is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. EST.

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