Advocates press economic case for climate action

Source: Amanda Reilly, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Climate advocates are urging President Obama to use his final State of the Union address today to make a strong economic case for renewable energy amid Republican criticism of the administration’s climate agenda.

White House aides have promised a “nontraditional” speech, laying out a broad vision for the future of the country rather than specific policy provisions.

That means the president will be likely to tout last month’s major international agreement to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, in which the administration played a leading role in bringing China and India to the table (E&E Daily, Jan. 11).

Some of the toughest critics of Obama’s climate and environment agenda in Congress are preparing for disappointment and pre-emptively pushed back against the president’s likely remarks.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced he would bring a former coal miner to the speech to show the effects of what he calls the president’s “war on coal.”

Climate advocates say they’re looking for Obama to rebut the likes of McConnell by stressing jobs and wealth creation that could stem from global and domestic efforts to address climate change.

Van Jones, the president’s former green jobs adviser, argued that an economic message would resonate with the greatest number of Americans.

“This is an opportunity,” said Jones, who founded the group Green for All, “for him to underscore to the public the importance of this issue, not only for the planet in the abstract — though that’s important — not only for future generations — that’s important — but for people who are looking for work, and wealth and health in an economy that is still in recovery.”

Tom Steyer, the billionaire California environmentalist and political donor, said yesterday that he also expected the president to make a strong statement on climate and the economic benefits of renewable energy.

Obama needs to “make sure that the move we’ve made is decisive and irrevocable,” Steyer said during a conference call with reporters.

“He obviously is not going to get significant climate legislation through by the end of his administration … but he can build on the things that have already happened,” said Steyer.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest yesterday touted the international climate agreement among a list of administration achievements. Those wins, he said, will remain relevant after the speech and throughout the upcoming elections.

‘Take victory lap’

In an interview yesterday, former New Jersey Gov. and former U.S. EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican, argued that “the less he says, the better” about climate change during the speech, given the likely Republican criticism it will spawn.

With Republicans, Whitman said, “anything he says is going to be inherently bad, and it goes to the base, so it’s worrisome.”

Whitman, an advocate of nuclear energy industry for the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, expressed hope of seeing Obama find common ground by pushing nuclear energy as an economic stimulator and an issue she said could “appeal to both sides.”

“I really would love to have him talk a lot about it because it’s going to take leadership moving forward, and to point out these areas where we can have a meeting of the minds,” Whitman said, “but I don’t see that happening. I don’t think he’s going to dwell on that for a long time. He’s going to want to take the victory lap.”

McConnell, who has led Senate opposition to EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the cornerstone of the administration’s climate push, is using his guest, fourth-generation coal miner Howard Abshire, as a symbol of dissent. Abshire works in eastern Kentucky removing mining equipment from closed mines after losing his own mining job.

“The president’s war on coal has devastated coal country and unfortunately contributed to the loss of thousands of jobs in Kentucky, one of which was Howard’s,” McConnell said in a statement yesterday.

McConnell predicted during separate Senate floor remarks that Republicans would be broadly disappointed with the president’s message: “Based on what the White House has been saying in the media, it’s unlikely we’ll hear a unifying message for our country tomorrow. That’s really unfortunate.”

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said he expected Obama to brag about the Paris climate deal but downplayed the significance of the agreement.

“He will [brag], which is pretty humorous because absolutely nothing happened,” Inhofe told E&E Daily.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said he planned to bring to the speech Jason Small, a leader of a local boilermakers union chapter, to protest what he called a “devastating anti-coal, anti-energy agenda that threatens hardworking Montana families, union workers and tribal members.”

The White House, on the other hand, announced over the weekend that first lady Michelle Obama would bring Washington, D.C., businessman Mark Davis, who trains people to perform green-tech-related jobs, as a guest.

Climate change is an “important subject, so I expect it’ll be part of his discussion,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said. “As he says, he’s looking more into the future, but climate change is clearly one of the future issues.”

In a floor speech yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) praised Obama’s commitment to renewable energy among a slew of policy accomplishments during his administration.

“It’s important to remember how far we’ve come through the leadership of President Barack Obama,” Reid said, adding, “As we look back over seven years of the Obama presidency, one thing is clear: Republicans have failed in their radical crusade against him.”

Reporter Geof Koss contributed.