In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama turned up the heat on Congress on clean energy. It was another step in an invigorated effort to fight climate change that began last election night and continued with his recent inaugural address.
The president vowed that if Congress failed to enact “a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago,” he would unilaterally use the powers of the presidency to take action.
“I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy,” the president said.
Environmentalist and renewable energy advocates were quick to cheer the president’s bold declaration.
Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, saluted the president for laying out an “assertive agenda for reducing dangerous carbon pollution” and “promising to lead a national effort to cut energy waste in half by 2030 and advance our use of renewable power.”
“This is a vision for needed change,” Beinecke said in a statement. “We can’t power a 21st-Century economy with the fossil fuels of the past. We must invest, as a nation, in the next generation of clean power plants. We must develop energy-efficient cars, workplaces and homes. And we must expand our use of renewable energy.”
Even before the president had finished his remarks, the Solar Energy Industries Association had emailed a press release, in which its chief, Rhone Resch, said that “President Obama understands that the stakes are high and we must not fall behind other nations as the world shifts to emissions-free clean energy technologies like solar.”
So what exactly is the president calling for, beyond cap-and-trade (which, if you didn’t click on the link, is what McCain and Lieberman proposed)?
The heart of his call came in this passage:
I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we. Let’s take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long. I’m also issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years. The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen.
In one more nod to clean energy, among the 25 honored guests in First Lady Michelle Obama’s box for the speech last night was Lee Maxwell, described by the White House as an Iowa community college graduate who “gained 26 separate certifications in everything from reading blueprints to driving forklifts, and today, he’s responsible for turning on the power for new wind turbines that are being built around the country.”