24 February 2009

On Obama's Address to Joint Session of Congress and His Energy Investments

Tonight President Barack Obama addressed concerns that many of us were feeling the past few weeks, that the President who rode in on hope had changed to the steed of despair.

His address tonight was to the Joint session of Congress, but he was also delivering a message to the American people: "We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before."

He needed to reassure us that his economic solutions were not a pump and dump play, that he remains confident and hopeful that the American people have the wherewithal to succeed.

"It begins with energy," Mr. Obama said. "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."

All valid points and something a number of us have been saying for some time: we need to lead in this space and others are already at the table.

President Obama sounds much like candidate Obama on this point, "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."

He is still calling for doubling the US supply of renewable energy in the next three years, and for laying down "thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country."

Even energy efficiency got its due: "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."

He pushed the point further by saying that "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."

He asked Congress to send him legislation that "places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America."

In support of that, he outlined how the US "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."

I got some flak for defending clean coal in Obama's list. (It's okay, I'm used to it.) I simply think we need to invest in figuring out whether clean coal technologies CAN be developed before we dismiss it outright. (Someone on Twitter reminded me of GreenFuel Technologies Corporation, which "recycles" CO2 emissions using high-yield algae farms. The CO2 recyclers seemed to get stiffed in the StimPack, which is unfortunate in my view.)

I'd like to see more details and look forward to tracking this as it develops.

For now, the message was positive: "We can and will," rather than, "Holy Shit, this is worse than I thought." Thank you, speechwriters!