The President wisely made energy a focus of tonight’s State of the Union address. As well he should: energy is a bright spot in our economy, and with the right policies our competitive advantage on energy can only grow.
Some of the ideas proposed by the President tonight make a lot of sense. The unconventional oil and gas boom has unlocked millions of jobs–many of these in manufacturing in sectors like iron, steel, fertilizer, cement, chemicals and plastics–and the President appears ready to commit real resources to making sure this renaissance continues. He makes strong commitments to energy efficiency–initiatives like a $1 billion performance contracting initiative that comes on the heels of a very successful $2 billion program from 2011-2013 that created manufacturing jobs and saved energy. Perhaps most importantly, the President seems ready to finally make the kind of changes to the permitting process for infrastructure projects that will speed these projects up, get shovels in the ground, and reduce red tape.
That said, it’s hard to reconcile the broad, sweeping promises in speeches like this one with the aggressive–and often conflicting–regulatory agenda put into place by the Administration. Regulations like the greenhouse gas standards praised by the President, which threaten to phase out many of the fuels driving our energy renaissance. Or Ozone, a regulation that by the Administration’s own estimate would cost as much as $90 billion per year. Or the calcified permitting process that continues to plague the Keystone XL pipeline, energy exports and countless energy and infrastructure projects across the country.
And so much will depend on execution. The President has promised to fix permitting and red tape before, but many of the reforms fell short. He’s repeatedly called for an all-of-the-above policy, but in practice it’s really been some-of-the-above. Coal, nuclear, hydropower and others deserve to be part of the equation, alongside oil, gas, renewables and energy efficiency. Yet many of these words were not uttered in tonight’s speech.