White House Walks Line Between Energy Production and Climate Issues

President Obama takes questions from the media in the East Room of the White House on June 29, 2011. (National Journal)

President Obama doubled down in support of natural gas while at the same time casting himself as a climate defender with the release Tuesday of his fiscal year 2015 budget proposal.

The budget, which outlines presidential spending and policy priorities for the coming year, touts the administration's "all of the above" energy strategy, a political posture that has drawn the ire of environmental groups by promoting fossil-fuel energy development alongside renewables.

This line is nothing new. In his State of the Union address, Obama defended natural gas as a "bridge fuel" and stated: "The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working." The comments set off a firestorm of criticism from environmental activists who insist the president won't leave a legacy on climate change if he continues to promote natural gas.

The fiscal year 2015 budget shows that the president is unmoved.

It calls for increase investments in sustainable natural-gas production, a clear nod to the president's belief that the fuel is a key ingredient in the domestic energy mix. At the same time, however, the budget shows a clear preference for cleaner-burning fossil-fuel technology. It sets aside $476 million at the Energy Department to lower the costs of carbon capture and storage technology for use in coal and natural-gas-fired power plants.

The budget also provides a strong show of support for clean energy, allocating $2.3 billion for DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to "build on the administration's success in reducing U.S. dependence on fossil fuels."

The budget allocates $27.9 billion overall for DOE, a nearly 2 percent drop off from the $28.4 billion requested last year. EPA would get $7.9 billion under the proposal, approximately $300 million less than last year's presidential funding request, while the Interior Department would receive $12 billion, an increase of $300 million over last year's request.

The proposal also highlights the president's climate action plan, showing that when it comes to energy and environment policy, Obama believes he can have his cake and eat it too.

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It calls for funding to promote climate-change adaptation and mitigation in a nod to the president's proposal for a climate resilience fund, a $1 billion pot of money that could be tapped to help communities across the U.S. prepare for and recover from extreme weather linked to climate change. The proposal also sets out conservation as an administration priority, with a provision to set aside $900 million annually in mandatory funding for Land and Water Conservation Fund programs each year. LWCF programs divert money from oil and gas revenues to conservation initiatives.

Environmentalists won't be happy to see Obama continue to bolster natural-gas development. But interest groups looking to depict the president as in the pocket of the oil and gas industry will have a hard time of it. The budget clearly outlines the president's commitment to clean energy development and climate action. It also calls on Congress to end billions of dollars in tax breaks for the the biggest energy companies, while at the same time expanding and making permanent the renewable-energy production tax credit.