State of the Union offers little for environmental community

Amanda Carey Contributor
Font Size:

While President Obama called for an “investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people” in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, the president did not emphasize the need for continued investment in biofuels and clean energy technology.

During the speech, Obama did issue a challenge to have 80 percent of America’s electricity come from clean energy sources by 2035. To help pay for the investment, he pledged to ask Congress to eliminate subsidies to oil companies. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” said Obama, “but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.”

But that was about the extent of his remarks on alternative energy sources. While the president’s remarks on energy were not exactly a step backward, the vague generalizations and failure to mention greenhouse gases or climate change did not excite many in the environmental community.

Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica, for one, took a hard line with the president, saying he was downright misleading. “President Obama says he wants to lead the country in clean energy innovation,” said Pica. “Unfortunately, requiring more coal, nuclear power, and natural gas production is not leadership and is not innovation.”

“Coal, nuclear power, biofuels, and natural gas are inherently dirty,” Pica added. “Telling Americans anything else is just misleading.”

Dan Weiss, senior fellow and director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress was more optimistic.

“President Obama’s clean energy plan would launch the United States into the 21st century by investing in high tech vehicles,” said Weiss, referring to Obama’s goal to have 1 million high-technology vehicles on the roads by 2015. “This would protect people from pollution, cut foreign oil imports and create jobs.”

“The most important thing President Obama and Congress can do to ‘win the future’ is work together to create jobs, help families cope and gets our economy growing,” said American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity President Steve Miller. “Sound energy policies that ensure a vital role for coal are essential to accomplishing these goals.”

The president, however, did not address the current battle over plans by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. Just last week, a  group over more than 20 environmental advocacy groups sent the president a letter calling on him to defend the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon.

Nor did the president repeat his call last from year for a comprehensive, bipartisan bill to address climate change and renewable energy. “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,” said Obama in his 2010 address.

Even in 2009, the president went so far as to call for a national cap-and-trade system. “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,” said Obama.