How will clean energy fare in the State of the Union?

Source: John McArdle • E&E • Posted: Tuesday, January 24, 2012

As President Obama prepares for his third State of the Union address tonight, there’s no longer any question that clean energy will once again play a role in the speech.

In recent days, the White House has been openly telegraphing its intent to make clean energy a focus of this year’s address. But what remained unclear yesterday was how high of a billing the issue will get.

Obama released a video message to supporters over the weekend in which he said that one part of the economic plan he intends to lay out before Congress will include “American energy — fueled by homegrown and alternative energy sources.”

The message came just days after Obama’s re-election team launched its opening television commercial of the 2012 cycle, which attacked “oil billionaires” and highlighted the jobs created by government investment in the clean energy industry. The fact that Obama used his first 30 seconds of air time to bash his energy policy critics and remind voters that clean energy investments can create jobs suggests that he won’t shy away from the issue during prime time tonight.

Also last week, Heather Zichal, the White House’s top aide on energy issues, echoed the clean energy theme in an editorial defending the administration’s decision to deny a permit for the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline between the Canadian oil sands and Gulf Coast refineries.

“In short, the Obama Administration’s approach to achieving American energy independence has been a comprehensive and sustained effort, with emphasis on boosting domestic energy production, increasing efficiency, and transitioning to cleaner energy sources,” Zichal wrote.

Energy and environmental insiders on and off Capitol Hill said yesterday that they were unsure whether Obama would again spend a significant amount of time calling on Congress to promote a clean energy standard that would require 80 percent of U.S. power to come from low-carbon sources by 2035.

Some of them wonder if he may have been chastened after making that issue a top priority in last year’s speech. Twelve months later, the proposal hasn’t moved very far. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) is finally preparing to introduce a bill on the issue.

During a briefing yesterday, White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked whether the president was too ambitious in his proposals in last year’s speech.

“I think that any State of the Union address which lays out an agenda has to be ambitious,” Carney said. “And if you got through a year and you achieved everything on your list then you probably didn’t aim high enough. So I think this president aims high, and I think there are absolutely things that remain undone that need to be done that he will call on all of us to work together in order to get done in this address and beyond.”

With White House staffers mum on specifics about the speech, plenty of interest groups were happy to weigh in yesterday on the specific proposals they want the White House to highlight in Obama’s first major address of the 2012 election year.

Here’s a sampling:

Carlton Carroll, spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute: “The president will no doubt say tomorrow night that his administration is ‘committed’ to American-made energy, but all the evidence points to the contrary. … As we’ve tried to point out to the president time and time again, the oil and natural gas industry can be part of the solution to our jobs and deficit problems. We can provide millions of new jobs and billions of new government revenue.”

Alex Formuzis, spokesman for Environmental Working Group: “We hope the president uses this opportunity to lay out a positive agenda for the next year as it relates to the environment and public health. Many in Congress and others running for office have refused to accept even the possibility man played any role in global warming. President Obama should lay out the stark differences between he and these science deniers who would lead our country in an entirely different direction where big polluters would set policy for the quality of air, water and land.”

Iaim Murray, director of the Center for Economic Freedom at the Competitive Enterprise Institute: “The President is likely to concentrate on reviving American jobs and on using American energy to fuel a recovery. The problem is that his economic policy is what is keeping the economy sluggish and he refuses to allow the most cost-effective use of American energy resources. … America needs real supply-side reforms to make the labor market more flexible and resilient. He also needs to open up the vast resources currently owned by the American people to help get them back to work.”

Daniel Weiss, senior fellow and director of climate strategy, Center for American Progress: “President Obama can tell a very positive story about his energy policies. The administration has some major achievements that will help everyday Americans. The increase in domestic oil production reduced imports to less than half of our oil. The modern fuel economy standards will save 2 million barrels of oil per day by 2025. The generation of renewable electricity will double in four years. Clean energy investments created tens of thousands of good paying jobs. Pollution reductions from vehicles, power plants and other sources will protect children and families from mercury, smog and carcinogens from these emitters. More efforts are essential, of course, but President Obama has outstanding accomplishments in just three years.”

Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government: “If Obama had any credibility, he would counsel the American people that instead of creating jobs and importing cheap energy from Canada via the Keystone pipeline, he chose instead to bow at the altar of environmental radicalism and is more interested in funneling money to bankrupt ‘green’ energy companies that neither create energy nor jobs.”

Meanwhile, the Natural Resources Defense Council last night began a four-day TV ad campaign, timed for the State of the Union, thanking Obama for his administration’s new regulations against mercury and other toxic air pollutants. The ads challenge Congress to do the same.

The ad buy will run through Thursday on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and Comedy Central cable television channels.

Later this week, NRDC will begin airing a different set of online ads highlighting a similar message in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia. Those ads feature individuals and families discussing the debilitating impact of air pollution on their lives.