Where Pres. Obama Stands on Energy

This blog is the first in a series of blogs examining the energy positions of Presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson.  SACE staff Chris Carnevale (as well as former SACE staff Simon Mahan & Jennifer Rennicks) contributed to this post. Note: The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy does not support or oppose candidates or political parties. Links to reports, candidate websites and outside sources are provided as citizen education tools.

Chris Carnevale | September 7, 2012 | Elections, Energy Policy

Now that Barack Obama has formally accepted the Democratic National Convention’s nomination, it’s time for voters to take a good look at where he stands on energy issues and to evaluate his energy record as president. The last three years have been a bit of a mixed bag on energy as Obama has directed significant financial backing to both high risk and clean energy options.  A belief in pursuing an “all of the above”energy policy has led him to back, in one way or another, nearly all major energy options with an emphasis on the need for clean, affordable energy and energy security for the United States.

The graphic below represents a ‘word cloud’ generated from an energy-focused speech delivered in March, 2011 and provides insight into the energy priorities and positions which have characterized his administration. In particular, the words ‘clean’ ‘energy’ and ‘America’ dominate the field, followed by the concepts ‘solar’ ‘wind’ and ‘nuclear.’ Notably absent from both Obama‘s and Romney‘s energy word cloud is the word ‘efficiency.’

Once again, a candidate’s position on energy policy cannot be summed up in a single image – however it is an excellent way of seeing major priorities at a glance. Below is a very brief summary of where President Obama stands on various energy issues drawn from past energy speeches, his Administration’s actions as well as his own statements.

Oil and Gas Drilling

Domestic oil production has surged during this administration, reaching its highest level in eight years.   Obama stated that “As long as I’m president, we’re going to keep on encouraging oil development and infrastructure.” In March 2010, President Obama moved to open up large sections of previously protected coastal areas to offshore oil and gas drilling, but reversed that decision in the wake of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. However, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) reopened the issue by releasing a plan calling for new offshore oil and gas exploration along the Atlantic coast. Similarly, Obama has sent mixed signals on the Keystone XL pipeline: initially rejecting the permit for a pipeline to connect Canadian tar sands oil to refineries in Texas and later granting preliminarily approval for the pipeline’s southern sections. In addition to oil drilling, Obama has supported the proliferation of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, for natural gas production. Earlier this year, he issued an executive order that critics say favors industry practices as companies will have to reveal the composition of drilling fluids only after drilling is complete.

However, Obama has not been blindly supportive of oil and gas production.  He remarked that “I’ve pledged to reduce America’s dependence on oil” and called on Congress to end oil subsidies remarking “It’s not like these are companies that can’t stand on their own. Last year, the three biggest U.S. oil companies took home more than $80 billion in profit. Exxon pocketed nearly $4.7 million every hour.”  In addition, Obama’s automotive fuel standards, further discussed below, will dramatically reduce demand for all oil – domestic or imported – in the United States in the coming years.


Obama has repeatedly voiced support for ‘clean coal’ – most recently in his acceptance speech at the convention – pointing to support for integrated gasification combined cycle coal power plants (IGCC) and carbon capture and sequestration from coal-fired power plants. The Mississippi Power Kemper power plant (an IGCC+S power plant proposal) has been awarded more than $400 million in federal subsidies. On the other hand, Obama has promulgated strong, new mercury and air pollution standards that mostly impact existing coal-fired power plants. These rules will help prevent 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year, and 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms by setting the first-ever legal limits on the amount of mercury and other toxins that coal-fired power plants can emit.


Obama has consistently been an outspoken advocate for nuclear power, even in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima tragedy.  The Obama-appointed Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved four new nuclear reactors this year, the first to be approved since the 1970s. The president increased the amount of federal money available for loan guarantees for nuclear power plant construction by $36 billion, which brought the total funds available to $54.5 billion.  Utility giant Southern Company has spoken for $8.3 billion of this money for the construction of two new reactors at Plant Vogtle in Georgia. Obama has proposed implementing a “Clean Energy Standard,” which broadly defines clean energy as including nuclear, natural gas and carbon capture and sequestration from coal.

Energy Efficiency

One of Obama’s most lasting energy legacies will, no doubt, come from the fuel savings and carbon reductions resulting from increased Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards which he raised in 2009 and hiked again just last month.  The just-released standards now require cars and light-duty trucks to achieve an average fuel economy rating of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 – effectively doubling the fuel efficiency of cars today.  These savings will cut U.S. oil use by 2.2 million barrels per day by 2025 – saving drivers $8,000 per vehicle due to less gasoline consumption as compared to a 2010 car.  Obama also made significant investments  in buildings energy efficiency through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. He announced the Better Buildings Initiative in 2011 with the goals of making commercial facilities 20 percent more efficient by 2020 and issued an executive order to require federal agencies to invest $2 billion worth of energy efficiency upgrades over two years.

Renewable Energy

In his latest State of the Union, Obama declared “I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy. I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here.” The Obama stimulus bill included the first-ever three-year extension of the production tax credit for wind energy, among other renewable energy investments.  BOEM’s Smart from the Start initiative is streamlining offshore wind energy permitting and leasing processes to tap the tremendous energy potential along our coasts. In addition, the Department of Energy has provided billions of dollars in loan guarantees to renewable energy companies and battery manufacturers.

Electric Vehicles

Obama set a goal for 1 million electric vehicles to be on the road by 2015. His Administration has spent approximately $2.4 billion to date working to achieve that goal.

Climate Change & Carbon Pollution

In 2008, then Senator Obama spoke about the need for climate legislation that limited emissions to the IPCC recommended 80 percent reductions below 1990 levels by 2050 with 100 percent of the pollution allowances auctioned to companies, not given as windfall. In his Inaugural Address, Obama clearly highlighted the threats of climate change, urging Congress to take action.  In his acceptance speech last night, Obama clearly reminded the nation that “climate change is not a hoax.  More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They’re a threat to our children’s future.” In the total absence of Congressional leadership on climate policies, Obama issued the first ever carbon pollution rules for power plants, affecting new coal-fired power plants, and twice raised the CAFE standards to cut carbon emissions from the transportation sector.


Through statements and executive actions, Obama has lent support for tapping nearly every major energy option – firmly positioning himself as an “all of the above” candidate when it comes to energy policy. However, Obama’s support for high risk energy options such as nuclear reactors and offshore drilling may have profound implications here in the Southeast from thermal polluted waters to impacted coastlines. These and other energy issues should surface during one of the upcoming presidential debates this fall. I encourage everyone to follow the debates next month and look for our blog examining third party stances on energy policies next week.

Chris Carnevale
Chris is SACE’s Climate Advocacy Director. Chris joined the SACE staff in 2011 to help with building public understanding and engagement around clean energy solutions to the climate crisis. Chris…
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