President Obama tackled energy in his State of the Union address on Wednesday night, but not in the way that many (including myself) had hoped.
Not only did Mr. Obama push for “building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country,” but he endorsed “opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development” and “continued investment in...clean coal technologies.”
Does the President actually believe offshore oil drilling makes sense and that coal and nuclear can be safe, healthy and non-polluting? Or, as the country’s uber politician, is he trying to maintain a balancing act in order to avoid alienating members of Congress who are beholden to the fossil fuel and nuclear industries for their campaign contributions?
If it’s the latter, we should all remind the President of his campaign promise to rid the nation of “politics as usual.” If it’s the former, President Obama’s science, environmental and health advisors need to make a beeline to the Oval Office so they can brief their boss on the industries he’s touting. Why?
* Clean coal and nuclear are myths, the products of aggressive industry public relations far more than reality. Says analyst Richard Coniff, “Clean” is not a word that normally leaps to mind for a commodity some spoilsports associate with … acid rain, black lung, lung cancer, asthma, mercury contamination, and, of course, global warming. Even if the carbon is captured and sequestered or impurities are “scrubbed” away, the pollutants that result from burning coal never truly disappear.”
* The very act of mining coal destroys the environment. Mountaintop removal mining is decimating both the natural and human landscape of Appalachia, for example.
* Offshore oil drilling pollutes the oceans, threatens marine animals and plants, and trashes beaches and coastlines.
As for nuclear energy, I have a hard time imagining any scenario that can lump “radioactive waste” and “clean” in the same sentence. There’s a reason no state wants to become a repository for the waste from nuclear power plants: they can’t guarantee it won’t eventually make its way into our air, water, and soil — or be stolen by terrorists and converted into a bomb.
Now, to be fair, the president did strongly endorse renewable energy:
“We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century,” he said, noting that “Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years.”
I applaud the Administration’s commitment to “put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bill.” Likewise, I support his decision to “invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power… and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.”
But rather than link these winning strategies to losers like coal, oil and nuclear, why not expand his vision for our future to include cost-effective and non-polluting options like mass transit, telecommuting, and stricter building standards to reduce energy demand from space heating and lighting?
If we want an energy future we can believe in, that future cannot continue to depend on fossil fuels and nuclear energy.
President Obama said it best: “If we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, “something worthy to be remembered.”