1: number of times President Obama said the word "environment" in his 2012 State of the Union address
23: number of times he said "energy"
8: number of times he preceded it with "clean"
1: number of times he preceded it with "renewable"
1: number of times he mentioned "climate change"
A word cloud of Obama's 2012 State of the Union.
This rhetorical scorecard from last night's State of the Union address says quite a bit about how environmental issues figure into our current political landscape, and could be a preview of how Obama will try to play them in this year's campaign. Environmental regulation and protection are politically thorny territories for Obama. It would be unfair to say he's abandoned the cause of the environmental protection (the EPA, after all, has been quite busy lately), but it's clear that cheerleading it before a primetime audience isn't something he sees as politically expedient.
Where he did give attention to green causes, he chose his words carefully. He talked about "clean energy" not "renewable energy." There's a big difference between the two: natural gas and coal can't, by any stretch of the imagination, be classified as renewable resources. "Clean" is a much squishier category, though. And according to a brief on the priorities Obama outlined that was released by the White House after the speech, it includes: "wind, solar, biomass, hydropower, nuclear power, efficient natural gas, and clean coal." It's the kind of catch-all Obama so favors -- the kind that allows him to throw almost everyone a bone.
Here are a few of the notable positions Obama staked out last night on domestic energy:
1.) "I'm directing my administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources," he said. As The Hill points out, this wasn't so much the unveiling of a new policy as a very public trumpeting of Interior's draft offshore leasing plan for the next five years, which would encourage new development in the Gulf of Mexico and north of Alaska.
2.) "Natural gas is America's new best friend!" OK, he didn't actually say that, but it was, more or less, his message. In his words: "We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years, and my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy." He pushed the notion that fracking could be done safely, and advocated for disclosure of the chemicals used to frack wells on public land.
3.) "Some technologies don't pan out. Some companies fail. But I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy." Translation: The Solyndra scandal won't be the end of clean -- and presumably renewable -- energy subsidies.
4.) "We've subsidized oil companies for a century. That's long enough. It's time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that rarely has been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that never has been more promising. Pass clean energy tax credits." Pure ear candy for enviros. The question is, will Congress ever have the cajones to axe big oil subsidies? Call me cynical, but I'm not optimistic.
Notable energy / enviro issue Obama didn't mention:
1.) His recent choice not to permit the Keystone XL pipeline from the Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico -- for now. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels went straight for it in the GOP's rebuttal, though: "The extremism that stifles the development of homegrown energy, or cancels a perfectly safe pipeline that would employ tens of thousands, or jacks up consumer utility bills for no improvement in either human health or world temperature, is a pro-poverty policy." Republicans will no doubt hammer Obama on this in the campaign year ahead, as well as continue to villify the EPA, as the latter part of Daniels' thinly-veiled comments do. As for "pro-poverty policy," it seems we may have been introduced to a new GOP catch phrase last night. Let's just say I won't be shocked to see it wielded against any and all forms of environment regulation in coming months.
A word cloud of Mitch Daniels' response to Obama's State of the Union.
Cally Carswell is HCN's assistant editor.
Source of data on word usage in the speech: the President's prepared remarks as released by the White House; Microsoft Word find function.