Obama’s horrific coal attacks

President Barack Obama, in last night’s second presidential debate:

And when I hear Governor Romney say he’s a big coal guy, I mean, keep in mind, when — Governor, when you were governor of Massachusetts, you stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, “This plant kills,” and took great pride in shutting it down. And now suddenly you’re a big champion of coal.

So what I’ve tried to do is be consistent. With respect to something like coal, we made the largest investment in clean coal technology, to make sure that even as we’re producing more coal, we’re producing it cleaner and smarter. Same thing with oil, same thing with natural gas.

It was jarring to see President Obama attack Romney for saying true things about coal, particularly when those things are the same sorts of things environmentalists in the Democratic Party have been saying for years. It literally made my stomach turn when the President launched this attack.

This is not the first time the President has launched this attack on Romney for previously correctly noting that burning coal kills people. His campaign has had an ad up in coal country hitting Romney along for exactly the same statements:

Prior to this, the Obama campaign had run a similar radio ad in Ohio.

By way of disclosure, the organization I work for, Citizen Engagement Lab, works with an anti-climate denial project called Forecast the Facts. I consult on some of their campaigns, including one which called on Obama For America to remove this cynical television ad. That said, this post is my own and does not represent the opinions CEL nor Forecast the Facts.

The most charitable defense of Obama is that he is merely calling out Romney’s changing of positions from someone who recognized that burning coal kills people to someone who denies that burning fossil fuels cause climate change. It certainly is sad that Romney has walked away from a true position from nine years ago.

And though he’s hardly made it an issue in this campaign, the President has made moves to reduce coal pollution. But when he’s attacking Romney for being critical of coal, it’s about being hawkish in Obama’s pursuit of fossil fuel votes in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. That he does this while not mentioning the danger of climate change even once last night is all the worse. Not only has the President staked a position where being critical of coal is meant to be a liability in 2012, he didn’t make a single energy policy argument that had to do with anything other than jobs and cheap energy prices.

Here’s more of the President’s words last night on energy policy:

Natural gas production is the highest it’s been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment. But what I’ve also said is we can’t just produce traditional source of energy. We’ve also got to look to the future. That’s why we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars. That means that in the middle of the next decade, any car you buy, you’re going to end up going twice as far on a gallon of gas. That’s why we doubled clean — clean energy production like wind and solar and biofuels.

And all these things have contributed to us lowering our oil imports to the lowest levels in 16 years. Now, I want to build on that. And that means, yes, we still continue to open up new areas for drilling. We continue to make it a priority for us to go after natural gas. We’ve got potentially 600,000 jobs and 100 years worth of energy right beneath our feet with natural gas.

And we can do it in an environmentally sound way. But we’ve also got to continue to figure out how we have efficiency energy, because ultimately that’s how we’re going to reduce demand and that’s what’s going to keep gas prices lower.

This summer, Bill McKibben had a seminal article in Rolling Stone noting that global consensus is that we cannot let the temperature rise more than 2 degrees Celsius if we want to stop catastrophic climate change. The problem, per McKibben, is that the amount of fossil fuels it will take to raise it 2 degrees is only 20% of the known fossil fuel resources on the planet. Energy companies already know where these fuels are and have plans to extract them and make trillions of dollars in the process. The result is we need to immediately change our fossil fuel consumption patterns to avoid blowing through this destructive mile marker — and this change has to happen in the face of some of the largest companies in the world being told they will not be allowed to realize their planned profits.

When President Obama talks about pursuing cheap energy and having 100 years worth of natural gas here in the US, it makes clear that he does not think climate change is a serious issue demanding immediate policy changes.

The great irony is that a massive shift towards green energy would create jobs. It would create more energy and lower the cost on energy as a result. It would be driven by domestic energy protection, providing greater national security. In short, an aggressive pivot away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy would be a move that achieves the jobs and costs goals the President is arguing for through the continued use of fossil fuels.

Climate change has been a complete non-issue in this election. While Obama has offered passing hints around reducing pollution and expanding renewable resources, he’s not explicit that this is meant to discourage climate change. More often than not he’s framing any energy issue around job creation and lowering energy prices. While Mitt Romney is undoubtedly worse than Obama on these issues, Romney too was once better on them. Both candidates have utterly failed to offer a vision for how they would address climate change. At this late stage, their denial of the dangers of this issue could well amount to a fatal blow to this planet as we know it. We simply don’t have the time for both major political parties to ignore global warming. And if ignoring it wasn’t bad enough, Obama’s cynical attacks on Romney for saying true things about the negative impact of coal make me ill.

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