28 January 2010

Pass or Fail? Obama's State of the Union and Clean Energy Future

Did President Obama pass or fail on energy in last night's State of the Union address?  I wasn't watching, but I've read the transcript.  Here are some of the choice bits:

"We can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow. From the first railroads to the Interstate Highway System, our nation has always been built to compete. There's no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products."

Totally agree. We are already losing the clean energy race and need to do a lot to catch up.

"We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy-efficient, which supports clean energy jobs. 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."

Okay. A little protectionism, a little nod to a giving something back to Americans for investing in efficiency.

"I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. And this year I'm eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate. 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."

I'm not sure passing the current Senate effort is the right thing to do. I think cap-and-trade is dead on arrival now and we need to shift the focus on innovation and investment. The important phrase in the above remark is

"...the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy."

Can we get there? I'm not convinced we have the political will or that Obama can carry the day. His approval rating sucks and new polls are pointing to a continuing decrease in belief among Americans in climate change. But I do agree that we can't afford to wait any longer, as the President put it last night

"China's not waiting to revamp its economy; Germany's not waiting; India's 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."

The President also said he does not "accept second place for the United States of America." Second place? In many respects we are already in third and the leaders are pulling away.

And we're not going to get there without massive investment in innovation, as Bill Gates said in his blog last week, we need "a distributed system of R&D with economic rewards for innovators and strong government encouragement is the key. There just isn't enough work going on today to get us to where we need to go."

I disagree with Gates that it is either efficiency or innovation; this is a false dichotomy. We need to fire on all cylinders. Just as with the President's nods to nuclear, offshore drilling, and "clean coal" last night, which were not just bones to GOP dogs, we need to deploy all solutions --and now.

I'm just not sure whether President Obama, rhetorical skills aside, has the political capital to wrangle the support he needs to make the necessary bold steps.

As for the speech, I give him a B-.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]