Hiding the Fracking Boom in Obama’s “Legacy”

by Oren Cass

The Associated Press has a strange new “OBAMA LEGACY” piece on his supposed accomplishments in energy policy: “Quiet But Big Changes in Energy, Pollution.” As a preliminary matter, whatever one might say about President Obama’s approach to energy and environmental policy, he certainly hasn’t been “quiet” about it.

But here is the AP thesis: “America has undergone a quiet transformation in how and where it gets its energy during Barack Obama’s presidency, slicing the nation’s output of polluting gases that are warming Earth. … The U.S. slowly but surely moved away from emissions-spewing coal and toward cleaner fuels like natural gas, nuclear, wind and solar.”

This badly mischaracterizes what has happened. Nuclear power consumption actually declined between 2008 and 2015. (It grew during the Bush administration.) Wind and solar power consumption increased by only 1.6 quadrillion BTUs, or less than 2 percent of the total American energy mix. (Its growth rate was higher during the Bush administration, albeit from a much lower base.)

Natural gas consumption, meanwhile, increased by 4.5 quadrillion BTUs—three times the increase for nuclear, wind, and solar combined. All told, natural gas has reduced carbon-dioxide emissions ten times faster than solar power has.

It’s not as if the AP did not have the space to explain this. It moves straight to a bullet list of five “U.S. Department of Energy statistics show[ing] jolts in where America gets its volts.” The first bullet is about coal as compared to nuclear and renewables. The next two are about purportedly impressive solar growth. Then we get one about oil and one about carbon-dioxide emissions. None even mentions natural gas.

The AP does quote Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, explaining that natural gas is the catalyst for change here. But the Obama administration is ready with its response:

But Brian Deese, Obama’s senior adviser, said the seeds of the fracking technology that enabled the natural gas revolution were found in federal Energy Department research conducted in the 1970s. He noted that the people who warned Obama’s policies — like his “Clean Power Plan” emissions limits — would be disastrous are the same people now celebrating the natural gas revolution.

This in no way refutes the claim that the changing energy landscape is entirely disconnected from the Obama agenda. But try and follow the logic anyway. In Deese’s view (I think?), it is inconsistent to (a) laud economic progress that may bear a relationship to research funded by the Department of Energy forty years ago, while also (b) expressing concern about EPA efforts to assert regulatory control over the nation’s energy mix. This is a bit like saying that anyone who (a) celebrates miracle drugs that might somehow have benefited from National Institutes of Health research must also (b) support Obamacare.

I suspect this is not actually Deese’s view, just something he knows will be reported unflinchingly and earn nods of approval from readers on “his team.” The AP is happy to oblige. So I guess that passes as good politics. Until the other side does it—then everyone can go back to lamenting the sorry state of public debate.

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