Obama tells governors to move away from fossil fuels

Source: Amanda Reilly, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, February 23, 2016

President Obama yesterday told governors of fossil fuel-heavy states that they should prepare for the nation’s energy mix to transition away from fossil fuels.

Regardless of the next administration, Obama said that the trend lines would move away from carbon-heavy energy sources. He also cautioned states not to rely on carbon-capture technologies because they are still expensive.

“If those states with extractive industries are not currently preparing for the fact that the energy mix is going to continue to change over time,” Obama said, “you’re probably doing a disservice to your constituencies.”

Obama spoke yesterday at the National Governors Association’s winter meeting, where he also took questions from governors.

The president’s remarks on energy came in response to a question from Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) on federal funding for research and development.

Obama, who earlier this month proposed to double clean-energy R&D funding over the next five years, acknowledged that the government could do more to fund technologies to make traditional forms of energy cleaner.

“We under-invest as a nation relative to, for example, our expenditures on health care research,” he said. “I’m all for that — we’ve got our cancer moonshot and we’re significantly increasing our investment in medical research — but we should be doing the exact same thing on energy.”

Obama expressed a desire for the United States to develop technologies that would make burning coal in places like India and China, as well as in the United States, cleaner.

But he said that the low price of natural gas and the relatively expensive price of capturing and storing carbon dioxide may mean that it will still be a while before carbon capture technology can be feasible.

“We are going to continue to invest in trying to bring those costs down,” he said, “but frankly in this marketplace, it may be a while before it’s economical for anybody to imagine wanting to use them.”

Regardless of the uptake of CCS technologies, Obama said that the transition to a lower-carbon energy mix was “almost inevitable” thanks to the Paris climate talks in December. In Paris, more than 190 nations agreed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C.

“Even if there’s somebody in this White House who disagrees with me on all of this stuff, it’s still going to happen, just because of the trend lines internationally,” Obama said. “And we should prepare ourselves for that.”

In response to a remark from Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I), who thanked Obama for visiting the northern state last year, Obama also said that there needs to be a “balance” between the perspectives that the country needs more oil drilling and that there are natural places worth preserving.

He pushed back against criticism about the pace and scale of his regulatory agenda in response to a question from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

Obama said he does not “believe in regulation for regulation’s sake, contrary to rumor,” and urged governors to put together a list of regulatory constraints that they find more “troublesome.” But he acknowledged that the administration wouldn’t necessarily agree with that list.

“There are going to be some environmental regulations where some governors think this is inconvenient, it’s impeding development,” he said, “and we’re going to say, ‘Well, this is protecting children’s health.'”

The president also touted that he has been “vigorous” in applying cost-benefit analyses to regulations, a dig aimed at states and industries that have complained about the high costs of some rules. Opponents have warned that the administration’s Clean Power Plan, which the Supreme Court recently stayed, would raise electricity rates; U.S. EPA’s analysis has found that it will not.

“Even on some of the big regulations you hear about that you don’t like, they’re not issued unless we think that the benefits substantially outweigh the costs. And we have the numbers to prove it,” he said. “So for those of you who think that I’m just a big-government, crazy liberal, we’re actually, we’ve crunched some numbers around here. We take it very seriously.”