Kate Mackenzie Energy and climate in Obama’s SOTU speech

There were fears that energy and climate change might not even get a mention in last night’s State of the Union address, but President Obama did in fact remark on it a few times. Critics though could (and do) argue that the subject appeared only in fairly mild terms.  And, crucially for the climate bills currently before Congress, cap-and-trade was never mentioned.

That could simply be a reflection of the fact that cap-and-trade, for most voters, is political poison (even if that’s partly because few understand it).  But if it was entirely opinion-poll driven, it’s notable that energy was mentioned almost solely in the context of jobs and winning the clean tech race. Energy security, another argument popular with all kinds of voters – didn’t get a look-in. 

Anyway, this was the particular statement about climate legislation: “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. ”

Furthermore, as Grist points out, the only specific energy measures mentioned were nuclear; offshore oil & gas; ‘clean coal’, biofuels and efficiency.  Interestingly, by liberal alliance moveon.org’s measure, the mention of nuclear power saw the biggest slump in popularity of the entire 70-minute speech.

Of course any climate bill needs the support of some Republican and Democrat lawmakers who are loath to alienate their fossil fuel-focused constituencies. But for our money, the tone on the difficult subject of healthcare reform was a little stronger and clearer – for example:   “But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know.”

Energy-related excerpts from the speech are pasted below:

We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities — (applause) — and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy-efficient, which supports clean energy jobs.  (Applause.)  And to encourage these and other businesses to stay within our borders, it is time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas, and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs right here in the United States of America.  (Applause.)

You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse.  Meanwhile, China is not waiting to revamp its economy.  Germany is not waiting.  India is not waiting.  These nations — they’re not 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’re making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.  Well, I do not accept second place for the United States of America.  (Applause.)

Next, we need to encourage American innovation.  Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history -– (applause) — 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 1,200 jobs nationwide helping to make advanced batteries; or in the California business that will put a thousand 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.  (Applause.)  It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.  (Applause.)  It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies.  (Applause.)  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.  (Applause.)

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 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.  And America must be that nation.  (Applause.)

Related links:

US cap and trade bill looks even further away (FT Energy Source)
Senators vow tough GHG limits (Argus)
Was Massachusetts really about climate (FT Energy Source)