Mixed Signals in the State of the Union Address

This blog was written by Jennifer Rennicks, former Senior Director of Policy & Communications at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | January 28, 2010 | Climate Change, Energy Policy

In tonight’s State of the Union speech, President Obama highlighted myriad issues  confronting Americans today from an economic crisis to high unemployment to ongoing military conflicts in the Middle East.  What these varied issues have in common is that meaningful clean energy policies could provide workable solutions.

On a positive note, the president connected some of the dots between these issues and noted – not for the first time in his presidency – that “the nation that leads the clean-energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy, and America must be that nation.”

Few would argue against that, and to help realize this goal Obama called for Congress (and it was a rather soft request, not a resounding executive command) to pass an energy and climate bill with “incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.”

Confusingly, though, this pronouncement came with very mixed signals as the same paragraph of the speech spotlighted nuclear power plants, new offshore oil and gas drilling and investment in “clean coal” technologies as sure-fired ways to point us toward a clean energy economy.

I actually had to go back to read the transcript word for word to make sure I heard him correctly.  His speech would suggest that more funding for dirty-energy sources like oil drilling and “clean coal” and heavily-subsidized sources like nuclear power are just the ticket to a clean energy economy.  Where were references to new solar farms like the president toured last fall in Florida, or to South Carolina’s new offshore wind testing facility or innovations we are beginning to see in sustainable biofuel production?

While it was heartening to hear Obama propose eliminating tax cuts for oil companies because, “we just can’t afford it,” these revenues will seem like petty cash if billions of dollars in incentives, loan guarantees and research funds are funneled to big oil/gas/power companies to secure enough  support for legislation.

True clean energy policies are needed to ensure that clean tech development looks more like Celgard, the North Carolina company Obama highlighted which is creating a 1,000 new jobs to make advanced batteries, rather than the the oil-rig abundant coasts along the Gulf of Mexico.

The clearest refrain of the night was jobs, jobs, jobs, and the president called for Congress to quickly send him a jobs bill.  It’s vitally important that a final jobs bill contain incentives and provisions for investment in clean energy jobs to help America remain competitive with China, India and Germany which the president cited as “nations not standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place.”

We shouldn’t be prepared to accept second place or even third or fourth place. It is past time for Congress to lead on this issue.  The American people and our economy are waiting.

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