State of the Union Address: A Nation “Built to Last” on Clean Energy

President Obama delivered his State of the Union Address last night, and energy issues played a starring role in the speech.

 Here are some of the comments that caught my attention:

 The President drew some firm lines in the sand.

The address was a strong defense of the importance of clean energy to America’s long-term economic prosperity. The President said:

 “I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy.”

In the speech, the President called for Congress to pass a clean energy standard and extend clean energy tax credits, while ending a century of tax subsidies for oil companies. 

The President again rejected the false choice between a clean environment and jobs.

He said:

“We don’t have to choose between the environment and our economy.”

His description of the remarkable comeback of American vehicle manufacturers, which are rapidly innovating to meet aggressive fuel economy standards, proved his point.

A mixed bag on natural gas.

On natural gas, the President committed to full disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing on federal lands.

 But — he missed an opportunity to lay out the bargain that must be struck.

We can help revolutionize America’s energy picture with our newly abundant supplies of gas, but to do so responsibly, we must get the environmental rules right to protect our air, land and water wherever “fracking” wells are drilled. 

Getting the environmental rules right means disclosure of the chemicals used in drilling. It also means reasonable standards to ensure high-integrity well design, safe water and chemical management, and methane gas containment to prevent additional harm to our climate.

With those kinds of safeguards in place, gas can reduce our environmental problems instead of increasing them.

The blueprint for action already exists in the recommendations of the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board. They must be swiftly implemented.

Standing by new mercury standards

The President ended 2011 with historic action to reduce mercury in our air, water, and food. 

As you probably remember, EDF was a strong advocate for those groundbreaking new standards.

Last night, the President stood by his action, declaring:

“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.”

Last night’s speech wasn’t the only time President Obama has talked about a clean energy future recently.

Earlier this month, he spoke to EPA staff and told them:

“We don’t have to choose between dirty air and dirty water or a growing economy. We can make sure that we are doing right by our environment, and, in fact, putting people back to work all across America.

He’s right about that, but make no mistake — in the weeks and months ahead, there will still be efforts in Washington to block efforts to change the environmentally-destructive and irresponsible course on which the nation, and the world, are bound.  

We at EDF will continue working to remind our lawmakers, and all Americans, that the science of climate change is clear and so are the economics. 

The fact is that we can build a more sustainable future using market-based approaches that preserve public health and the environment while creating new businesses and new jobs for American workers.

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One Comment

  1. Eric Skalwold
    Posted January 26, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    This is what I wish President Obama had said about the Environment.

    “As President it is my responsibility to tell the truth, and to lead.

    America is at a historic moment when economic sluggishness and environmental threats combine to provide an opportunity for America to solve both these problems and lead the world into a 21st Century economy of opportunity, and promise to future generations.

    At this moment earth may be in the midst of the sixth global mass extinction. The last mass extinction ended the era of the dinosaurs. Human activities: pollution, clearing land for agriculture, roads, and buildings, and over fishing may already have caused the extinction of half of the world’s land and marine species. Global warming is already, and will increasingly intensify the pressures on endangered species. Global Warming induced Climate Change is caused by human activity. Global Warming does not care whether you believe, or do not believe. Believing, or not believing, is something God may care about, but the only thing that matters regards Global Warming is whether or not you understand science and how scientific understanding advances. Even if humans address the threat of Global Warming with all the fear, and with all the intensity of human endeavor with which the US reacted to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the effects of prior human activity will still cause difficult, and expensive to deal with, changes to the world’s climate.

    Least the term “Global Warming” conger up benign images of lush warm climates where there were once harsh winters, a reality check is
    necessary. The longer we wait to seriously address Global Warming the more catastrophic, the more difficult, the more expensive the consequences will be. Make no mistake, earth will survive. The slogan is not, “Save the Earth”. The slogan is, “Save the Humans”. Global Warming induced Climate Change will increase the severity of weather. It will cause more hurricanes and tornadoes. Monsoons rains may not come, or may come with too much rain. There will be floods where floods were rare, droughts where droughts were rare. Glacier feed rivers that nations depend upon for drinking water and crop irrigation will no longer flow year round, drying up just when they are most needed. There will be increased desertification around the world. Diseases will spread as short lived viruses, bacteria, and insects adapt more rapidly to climate changes than higher organisms, both plant and animal. Floods,
    desertification, disease, and severe and changing weather patterns will adversely affect agriculture so severely as to cause frequent and widespread crop failures leading to failed nations when governments are unable to ensure their citizens have food. If Somalia is a problem, imagine what the world will be like when there are dozens of Somalias. Consider the problems Italy and other European countries are having dealing with displaced peoples from Africa. Now imagine floods and famine displacing people at the scale of events Global Warming will cause. All the focus on rising sea levels caused by Global Warming is a distraction from problems so much worse that rising sea levels will be, by comparison, a relatively minor problem, severe as that problem will be.

    Overpopulation of humans is the root cause of the environmental problems the earth is experiencing. Overpopulation is a problem that must be faced squarely, but solving that problem will take generations (unless starvation, disease, and war are unleashed by an unwillingness to act). We can do things to start to address the problem of overpopulation. But it is far more critical that we neutralize the major ongoing threats to the Earth’s environment. America does not have to wait for agreement by other nations. Whether the rest of the world acts, or not, America will experience tremendous economic benefit by acting immediately and vigorously.

    Global Warming dictates that the world must immediately transition from a fossil fuel economy to an economy run on renewable energy. Nuclear energy is not renewable and is not a viable option. Aside from the safety concerns of terrorism, and need to safely store the most radioactive atomic waste for more than one hundred thousand years, nuclear power is too expensive, and it takes far too long to build nuclear power plants to be able to replace fossil fuels with nuclear power. Furthermore, the US does not have enough uranium to meet America’s energy needs. Current solar thermal, solar voltaic, and wind generation technology can supply America’s energy needs many times over, and at competitive prices were the playing field level. Even though the playing field is not level, in just the past few years so many wind farms have been erected across America that wind generators already produce more American electricity than nuclear power does, and the pace of building wind farms has not slackened. Solar and wind technologies are not the only viable renewable energy options available to America. Water power is already fully exploited, but tidal current and wave energy have not been exploited. Geothermal energy is an option is several regions. The economic prosperity brought about by American workers designing, building, and installing the infrastructure for a renewable electrical economy, including the necessary infrastructure improvements to the nation’s energy grid, would create an economic boom time that would last decades.
    The decentralized nature of renewable energy production and distribution would have the added benefit of safeguarding the nation’s energy system from natural disasters, and from the destructive acts of humans, physical and cyber. Our nation’s energy grid must emulate the resilient structure of the Internet.

    It is not enough to transition to a renewable energy based economy. Oil is not the only non-renewable resource that is in finite supply, and being pressured by increasing world wide demand. The future is one in which every product consumed by society must be 100% recyclable, and must be recycled 100%. The alternative is a future with diminished choices and lifestyles. The need to recycle is again an opportunity. Think of the economic activity created by the need to design, build, and recycle all the products of the American lifestyle!

    If America leads in a sensible, positive direction, the rest of the world will follow. Having lead, America will reap the largest part of the economic harvest of the world’s transition to a 21st Century sustainable economy.

    Of course America does not have to take up the challenge, and America does not have to take the lead. The third world is already happily doing the things America used to do: building, designing, innovating. China employed monopolistic tactics to gain control of the world’s solar voltaic market. European countries have lead the development of large scale wind generators. Iceland leads geothermal technology. The strength of Germany’s economic future is being built on energy independence through renewable energy. China’s energy policies are similar, though China is unwilling to diminish its use of fossil fuels while adding renewable energy to the mix. America is already behind, though not hopelessly. America can choose to be a “has been” like the Dutch Empire, Spanish Empire, and British Empire. We can follow their example. We can pretend that financial gamesmanship is economic activity, and leave innovation, and productivity to others. If we do, America’s greatness will have been nothing more than a bright, brief flash.

    I believe America is still capable of greatness. Lets get to work.”