Environmental community anxiously awaits State of the Union

Amanda Carey Contributor
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In this year’s State of the Union address, the environmental community will be looking for the president to defend the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and promise progress on the renewable energy front, in the absence of congressional action.

When it came to renewable energy, President Obama kept the focus of his 2010 State of the Union address on the need to remain competitive in the global market. “There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products,” he said, emphasizing the need for investment in green technology.

“We have gone from a bystander to a leader in the fight against climate change,” Obama added.

At the time, the president called on Congress to pass comprehensive energy legislation. Now, however, after the failure of Waxman-Markey in the House and the Republican surge in the November midterms, the chances of such a bill making its way through Congress are almost zero.

That means the environmental community is looking solely to the executive branch to make any headway on energy policy.

Last week, a group of more than 20 environmental advocacy groups sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to defend the Clean Air Act against a recent “unprecedented attack” from some members of Congress and polluters who say the act does not give the EPA the authority to regulate carbon emissions.

The letter was signed by top execs at organizations like the Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Environmental America, World Wildlife Fund, and Friends of the Earth.

“Our organizations cannot overstate the priority we put on preventing efforts to block, weaken or delay implementation of this vital law, which at every stage in its history has garnered overwhelming bipartisan support,” said the letter.

While the Clean Air Act is an immediate concern for most activists, they’re also not holding back their opinions of what the president should address in this year’s State of the Union.

Dan Weiss of the Center for American Progress wrote last week that not only should the president’s speech include  a comprehensive energy agenda, it should also contain a threat to “veto congressional efforts to block or slow” progress on energy policy.

According to Weiss, Obama’s energy priorities should include protecting Americans’ health, reducing dependence on oil, saving energy and money, and increasing American competitiveness by investing in clean energy technologies.

“President Obama should forcefully reiterate his determination to keep the United States in the global clean energy race by working with members from both parties to pass legislation that boosts investments…in the clean energy technologies of the future,” said Weiss.

“The State of the Union presents a golden opportunity for the president to contrast conservative opposition with his reaffirmation of the nation’s commitment to a clean energy future,” he added.

Tony Kreindler of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) told The Daily Caller that he will be looking for the president to do two things during his speech: continue to make the case for clean energy and defend the EPA’s carbon regulations.

“There is room for bipartisan movement here,” said Kreindler. “Whether he will get into specifics, I don’t know.”

“The EPA fight is first and foremost on our minds,” he added. “It would be great for the president to make the case that regulations are not necessarily a bad thing…and explain to the American public why it’s so important for the EPA to be able to carry out its congressionally-mandated responsibilities.”

Adam Kolton, national advocacy director for the National Wildlife Federation, told TheDC that he’ll be looking for an emphasis on bipartisan solutions for ensuring a “cleaner, safer, more secure environment.”

“As policymakers rightfully seek to reduce the federal deficit and control spending, they [should] also recognize the American people expect the government to ensure clean air, clean water and protected wild places,” said Kolton.

The only question now is whether the president will deliver.

Kenneth Green of the American Enterprise Institute told TheDC he expected the president to reiterate the need to invest in clean energy technology, including wind and solar power, and the electrification of vehicles, but make no major announcement for energy policy.

Green added that at this point it’s hard to predict what the president will say, but that he “probably won’t speak about climate change” and he “may or may not throw in the word ‘nuclear’ to make Republicans happy.”