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Obama pushes "clean energy," defends environmental rules

Obama pushes "clean energy," defends environmental rules

President Obama's State of the Union speech to Congress last night focused largely on jobs, taxes and income inequality, but it had plenty of red meat in it for those concerned about energy and the environment.

He vowed to continue to push for "clean energy" while touting the economic potential of shale gas and defending environmental regulations.  He defended government incentives for developing solar, wind and high-tech battery industries, but called for an end to longstanding subsidies for the oil and gas industry.

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"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," he said.

But he renewed his call for an "all-out, all-of-the-above strategy" to develop every available source of American energy, and said he was directing his administration to open up more than 75 percent of potential offshore oil and gas resources for drilling.

Obama also pointed to the job-creating potential of developing the nation's shale gas reserves, while indirectly acknowledging concerns over the environmental impacts of the hydraulic fracturing drilling technology.  He promised to "take every possible action to safely develop this energy" and said the federal government would insist on drilling companies disclosing the chemicals used in "fracking" on public lands.

While acknowledging lawmakers are too divided to act on climate change, Obama insisted there was no reason not to press ahead with "clean energy" tax credits and other initiatives that he said would save businesses money, promote innovation and create jobs.  The president said his administration would press ahead by promoting clean-energy development on public lands and in the military.

In a veiled reference to the scandal over his administration's backing of the failed Solyndra solar panel manufacturer, Obama urged Congress not to pull the plug on federal support for developing new energy technology.

"Our experience with shale gas, our experience with natural gas, shows us that the payoffs on these public investments don't always come right away," he said. "Some technologies don't pan out; some companies fail. But I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy."

Finally, the president reiterated his commitment to eliminating regulations "that don't make sense" and clearing away "red tape" to allow speedier infrastructure construction projects.  But he staunchly defended rules that protect health and the environment, saying they make the free market work better rather than kill jobs.

"I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury poisoning or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean," he said.

Reaction to the energy and envirnmental elements of the speech split along familiar lines. Environmentalists praised Obama's clean-energy emphasis, though some differed with him over whether shale gas can be safely extracted using "fracking."  A Marcellus shale gas industy group welcomed his support while coal complained about not being mentioned.  Other free-market advocates scored the administration for holding back the economy with "an avalanche of job-killing regulations."

For a transcript of the speech, go here.

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