Obama: climate change is a fact

By Anna Simet | January 29, 2014

Job creation, higher wages and investments in the U.S. education system were a few of several focus points during President Obama’s State of the Union address, which reiterated the administration’s “all-of-the-above” energy strategy and the repercussions of manmade climate change. While the president touted natural gas extraction and solar panel installations in the country, he did not specifically mention biofuels or bioenergy.

Obama said that America today is closer to energy independence than it has been in decades, largely because of safely extracted natural gas. He said he plans to cut red tape to help states get natural gas factories built, and that Congress could help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas.

Obama also pointed out that it’s not only oil and natural gas production that's booming in the country, but solar, too.  “Every four minutes another American home or business goes solar, every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can't be outsourced,” he said. “Let's continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don't need it so we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.”

In the coming months, the president said he will set new efficiency standards for trucks to further drive down oil imports and prices at the pump.

Over the past eight years, the U.S. has reduced total carbon pollution more than any other nation in the world, Obama said, stressing that climate change is real. “…we have to act with more urgency, because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought and coastal cities dealing with floods,” he said. “That's why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.”

Obama concluded his points on energy by emphasizing that there is no longer a debate on climate change. “Climate change is a fact,” he said. “And when our children's children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

The biofuels and biomass industries have expressed relatively satisfactory reactions to the president’s speech, but most are emphasizing that the renewable fuel standard (RFS) is an essential part of Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy, and that the U.S. EPA’s renewable volume obligation (RVO) proposal would severely damage progress made to date, if left as is.

"In his State of the Union address, President Obama emphasized the need for continued commitment to low-carbon energy sources," said Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of Biomass Power Association. "He highlighted the fact that the U.S. has reduced carbon pollution more than any other country—an achievement that biomass has clearly played a role in. With the implementation of his Climate Action Plan focused on reducing power plant emissions over the coming year, biomass will be a crucial part of the solution."

Via a media teleconference on the address, Brent Erickson, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, pointed out that the president didn’t specifically mention biofuels, but did recognize them in a fact sheet released ahead of the speech, which reiterated his commitment to homegrown fuels. “The RFS is the fundamental policy for accelerated adoption of homegrown advanced biofuels,” he said. “The bottom line is that we believe his president needs to more forcefully maintain his commitment to the RFS as a key of his all of the above energy strategy.”

Erickson pointed out the same-day coincidence of the speech’s delivery date and the deadline for submitting comments regarding the EPA’s RFS RVO proposal, which he said “is clearly at odds with president commitment to accelerate advanced biofuels…it’s ironic the president is calling for a reduction of greenhouse gases, but the EPA’s proposal will increase [emissions].”

Erickson added that “fracking is wonderful, but jobs the biofuel industry is creating are on top of that, and significant to the U.S. economy.”

Renewable Fuel Association President Bob Dinneen noted that the president attributed U.S. greenhouse gas reductions to natural gas, which is partially true—pointing out that ethanol plants are 87 percent fueled by natural gas—but said that he ignored the very real role that increased use of biofuels and ethanol have played. In anticipation of filing comments of RVO, Dinneen said RFA commissioned a study by carbon emissions expert Life Cycle Analysis, which determined that ethanol produced from corn today, even including indirect land use change, is 32 percent better than gasoline, and even more so than the emissions profile associated with nonconventional oil sources such as fracking and tar sands.

“Our carbon profile is improved with every new plant that is opened, and it will improve significant as new technologies, including cellulosic ethanol and other advanced biofuels, are introduced commercially,” Dinneen said. “If the president is serious about continuing a carbon agenda and progress the U.S. has made, he will reverse course on proposed RFS RVO.”

Jan Koninckx, DuPont global business director for biofuels, said that right now, hundreds of construction workers are outside in freezing temperatures working on completing the company’s cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa. Koninckx discussed progress on the facility and all of the benefits it and others like it will bring to the economy, and emphasized that it was the RFS that made all of it possible.  “What we depend on as a counterpoint doesn’t give tax breaks, rather, it’s caused tremendous investment in new technology and new capacity, which is really much better policy than continuation of support to a century-old industry,” he said. “The president gave us some confidence that there’s some continued support in the administration for biofuels…we hope full support for the RFS will be put back into place.”

Adam Monroe, Americas regional president for Novozymes, commented that the RFS is the nation’s only long-term energy and climate policy. “It has cut the emissions that lead to climate change, while creating wealth through investment, jobs and rural growth,” he said. “Strong, stable policy is key to keeping this momentum. We can’t let our environment and economy suffer because of policy instability.”