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Clean Energy from the SOTU Bully Pulpit: What a difference a year makes …

January 28th, 2010 · 3 Comments

The contrast between President Obama’s 2009 and 2010 State of the Union (SOTU) addresses is stark when it comes to the intersecting arenas of energy and climate.

In 2009, President Obama made a strong and uncompromising call for investments in “clean, renewable energy” and made a direct statement about the type of climate legislation expected from Congress (”market-based cap on carbon pollution”). He provided a meaningful opening target: “we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years”.

In 2010, President Obama did not even mention the word “renewable”, failed to refer back to the strong statements about renewable energy in the 2009 SOTU and how we on track to achieving (and likely exceeding) them, and sounded like he could have been speaking to the Republican National Convention in the Luntz-ian like redefinition of a “clean energy economy”:

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. 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.

While progressive winced and grimaced, it is easy to imagine chants of “Drill, Baby, Drill” and President Obama emphasized “more production” and defined “opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development” as providing “clean energy jobs”. And, the reinforcing of the “clean coal” myth. And, well, emphasizing questionable biofuels and divisive nuclear power over wind, solar, geothermal, improved hydro, ocean (wave), and other sustainable power options rounded out words to be expected from those looking down beneath their legs to 19th century energy options rather than looking above their shoulders (and thinking between their ears) toward the 21st century.

Now, to be clear, the President did make another call for a climate bill:

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.

Now, right before that, the President (re)defined oil and natural gas as “clean” and, well, these are already pretty profitable businesses.

When it came to these arenas, there is a common theme between 2009 and 2010 that is both true and powerful: that America is being left in the dust in the race toward a competitive positive in the 21st century energy market place. Sadly, the President’s words did not drive home in 2010, as they did in 2009, how clean, renewable energy investment (both in R&D and deployment) is the path toward that competitive position.

While a reread might change my mind, when it comes to a prosperous and sustainable clean energy future, the following seems a reasonable summary:

The President stepped up to the Bully Pulpit and chose to serve us bull …

Excerpt from 2009 SOTU

That is why, even as it cuts back on the programs we don’t need, the budget I submit will invest in the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future: energy, health care, and education.It begins with energy.

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 fifteen billion dollars 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.

Excerpts from 2010 SOTU

How long should we wait? How long should America put its future on hold?

You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse. Meanwhile, China’s not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany’s not waiting. India’s not waiting. These nations aren’t standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place. They’re putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure. They are making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.

Well I do not accept second-place for the United States of America. As hard as it may be, as uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may be, it’s time to get serious about fixing the problems that are hampering our growth.

we need to encourage American innovation. Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history - 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 investment 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. That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. 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. 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; and I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But 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. And America must be that nation.

We have gone from a bystander to a leader in the fight against climate change.

Tags: Obama Administration

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 J Rennicks // Jan 28, 2010 at 10:28 am

    this is one of the best summaries/reactions to last night’s SOTU that I’ve read. I even read the transcript to make sure I heard correctly when he seemingly defined ‘clean’ coal, offshore drilling and nukes as clean energy. To say those options have a place at the table (which is a debate in itself) is one thing - to define them AS the table is another. I do not believe those of us who support renewable energy as a economic development and climate solution were helped by that speech and think we’ll need to push hard for RE to remain the most viable and attractive option.

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    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by enviroknow, enviroknow, ClimaTweets, Fiona Xie, Jennifer Rennicks and others. Jennifer Rennicks said: disappointing & true (via @enviroknow) Clean Energy from the #SOTU Bully Pulpit: What a Difference a Year Makes http://ow.ly/16rw4D [...]

  • 3 Why a Sputnik moment? // Jan 26, 2011 at 6:06 am

    [...] with a call for 80 percent “clean energy” (the words need to be in quotations because the President, yet again, included “clean coal” in a clean energy discussion) by 2035. We’re issuing a challenge.  We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that [...]

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