The annual State of the Union address is political theater at its best--millions of Americans tune in to watch the big wigs schmooze, applaud the President in partisan waves and reveal the administration's platform for the rest of the year. Entertaining as it can be, the State of the Union also gives frustrating examples of who is successfully framing the national debates in our country. This year it was obvious that Big Oil, particularly the American Petroleum Institute (API), is forcing the U.S. to adopt it's narrow idea of America's "energy future."
In fact, the President of the United States sounded a lot like the self-appointed President of U.S. Energy--API president and CEO Jack Gerard. Compare one of Jack Gerard's key talking points from his recent "State of American Energy" address with a line from Obama's State of the Union speech last night (emphasis added):
GERARD: "We need all of our resources—oil and natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, biofuels and more."
OBAMA: "This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy - a strategy that's cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs."
It appears that, after repeated circulation among oil lobbyists and their apologists in Congress, President Obama has bought into this "all of the above" nonsense, an empty rhetorical gesture designed to keep our country dependent upon dirty energy like synthetic tar sands crude oil and gas obtained through controversial hydraulic fracturing. The "all of the above" line has been promoted on the websites of the American Petroleum Institute as well as API's "Energy Tomorrow" blog, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers website and among members of Congress.
What Big Oil really means is that they'll continue to wave the carrot of clean energy in our faces as they push aggressively for increased oil and gas projects, subsidies and profits. This agenda infiltrates our government through the millions spent on Congressional campaign contributions and millions more on federal lobbying, and infiltrates the American public through expensive advertising campaigns like API's new "Vote 4 Energy" commercials. See Greenpeace's mock Vote 4 Energy commercial at the bottom of the blog.
While I'm sure Gerard and other oil lobbyists are thrilled with the results of their mass media campaigns and federal influence peddling, you can be their public response to the President's speech will be less appreciative.
Dirty energy lobbyists like Jack Gerard aren't going to stop harassing President Obama even if his administration "opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration." It will never be enough for Big Oil, which is why it's alarming that the President just bowed to two of the American Petroleum Institute's three major demands: opening up "75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources," which spells inevitable doom for our coastlines, and pushing dangerous gas fracking forward despite the inability for state regulators and the Environmental Protection Agency to keep up with the industry's voracious appetite. API and it's Big Oil members aren't going to stop griping over the rejected Keystone XL tar sands pipeline because of these concessions--they will continue to demonize Obama's cabinet as a perpetual obstruction to "freedom" and "prosperity" and bombard us all with inflated jobs claims cooked up by their own reports. Congressional Republicans are already demanding more in response to Obama's energy plan despite it's destructive concessions, repeating the "all of the above" line in the process.
These criticisms are not to say that the President got it all wrong on his energy ambitions. His statements on prioritizing clean energy development and investing in widespread energy efficiency are crucial to the reduction of greenhouse gas concentration in our atmosphere as well as securing our energy infrastructure, creating space for newer, safer jobs while reducing unnecessary risks like deadly air pollution from refineries and unstoppable oil spills started by foreign companies like BP.
Without making the connection to the oil industry (and every other large industry meddling in federal policies), President Obama mentioned the "corrosive influence of money in politics." The oil industry has spent over $55.7 million on federal politicians in the last five years and an additional $651 million on federal lobbying in the same timeframe. Activist leader and scholar Bill McKibben notes that the 234 House Representatives who voted last December to fast track the Keystone XL pipeline took $42 million from the fossil fuel industry, while the 193 opposing members took a cumulative $8 million.
If that's not corrosive influence, then I don't know what is.
Vote 4 Energy mock commercial: