Pitching his energy and climate agenda to a joint session of Congress last February, President Obama warned of the “ravages of climate change” and asked the House and Senate to send him legislation to send me legislation “that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America.”
Tonight, in his State of the Union address, Obama pushed essentially the same energy agenda with language that was decidedly more … aisle-crossing.
He won bipartisan applause by emphasizing plans to build new nuclear plants, develop so-called “clean coal” technology and drill for oil and gas offshore – initiatives favored by many Republicans, and a clear attempt to attract GOP support for a Senate energy and climate bill.
The President didn’t explicitly mention a carbon cap – a key feature of his efforts to lead a global effort to combat climate change, and which many Republicans oppose because they say it would kill American jobs – though he did call for “comprehensive” energy and climate legislation, which, in Washington code, means Obama is still pushing for greenhouse gas emissions limits.
He also acknowledged “those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change.”
In language that echoed his campaign rhetoric of his 2008 opponent, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Obama told those climate skeptics: “Here’s the thing: Even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.”
The language won cheers from Republicans, at least in the drilling and nuke sections. Environmentalists liked it, too; Frances Beinecke, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the speech “a clear and unmistakable call to action” on the climate bill that appears stuck in a legislative queue behind health care, a jobs bill and financial regulation.
Here are the key paragraphs on energy policy:
Next, we need to encourage American innovation. Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history – an investment … an investment that could lead to the world’s cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched. And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy. You can see the results of last year’s investments in clean energy – in the North Carolina company that will create 1200 jobs nationwide helping to make advanced batteries; or in the California business that will put 1,000 people to work making solar panels.
But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. (chamber-wide ovation) It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.
I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. And this year, this year, I am eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate. I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy. I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But … But, here’s the thing: Even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. America must be that nation.
And, for comparison, the similar passages from Obama’s 2009 speech:
We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.
Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don’t either. It is time for America to lead again.
Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years. We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history – an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science and technology.
We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.
But to truly transform our economy, protect our security and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest $15 billion a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.
As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink. We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices. But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it. Scores of communities depend on it. And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.
None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy. But this is America. We don’t do what’s easy. We do what is necessary to move this country forward.