Obama pledges U.S. leadership on climate

Source: John McArdle and Jennifer Yachnin, E&E reporters • Posted: Tuesday, January 22, 2013

President Obama prominently featured climate change — calling out skeptics and calling for America to lead a worldwide transition to new energy technologies — in his inaugural address today.

While this second address on the steps of the Capitol was about 300 words shorter than his first, Obama spent a great deal more time today on energy and environmental issues in a speech meant as a call to action on the current challenges facing America.

Gone was Obama’s roundabout reference to climate change through “the specter of a warming planet” from four years ago. This time, the president put the issue front and center.

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Obama said.

Less than three months after Superstorm Sandy devastated large swaths of the East Coast and with the country coming off unusually strong drought and fire seasons in the Midwest and West, Obama dismissed climate change deniers.

“Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms,” Obama said.

Fighting climate change isn’t a choice, he said, but an obligation “to all posterity.” And the way to fulfill that obligation, he said, is through the development of new, cleaner energy technologies.

Four years ago, Obama viewed the development of those technologies as a given

“We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories,” he said then.

But today, the president seemed to recognize the battles he has faced in trying to get the government to play a role in the development of clean energy technologies.

One of the biggest energy stories to come out of Obama’s first term was the failure of the Solyndra LLC solar energy company, which blew through $535 million in federal loans before going belly up. Republicans on the campaign trail and on Capitol Hill used Solyndra as a symbol of what they believed to be a failed green energy agenda.

Today, Obama acknowledged that the path toward new energy sources will be “long and sometimes difficult.”

But he said America can’t resist that transition but instead needs to lead it.

“We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries — we must claim its promise,” he said.

“That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure — our forests and waterways, our croplands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.”

While today’s speech wasn’t expected to be a place for policy proposals, the president has a chance to follow up with more specific plans for action in his upcoming State of the Union address.

One possible avenue for fighting climate change that the White House has already ruled out since Superstorm Sandy is a new carbon tax proposal.

Enviros applaud but urge action

Environmental advocates praised the president’s call to address climate change, and several organizations used the event to reiterate their own agendas — including the reduction of carbon pollution from power plants.

“This is a call to action against the climate chaos that is sweeping our nation and threatening our future. Now it’s time to act,” Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke said in a statement. “Power plants are our single largest source of carbon pollution. We must cut that pollution. We must do it now, for the sake of our country, our children and the future we share.”

Environment America Executive Director Margie Alt echoed those remarks, while also urging the rejection of the proposed 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Canadian oil sands crude from Alberta to the Gulf Coast.

“Over the next four years, we are counting on President Obama to set tough limits on carbon pollution from power plants, continue investing in the development of clean, renewable energy sources, including wind and solar power, and to implement dramatic energy efficiency improvements that will cut dangerous pollution and protect our environment and our families,” Alt said in a statement.

Forecast the Facts Campaign Manager Brad Johnson likewise applauded the president’s remarks, citing damage from Superstorm Sandy as well as drought conditions that plagued much of the country last year.

“No one wished upon this nation the offense of climate change, but from Staten Island’s stormy shores to the parched fields of Kansas, all the wealth piled by the oilman’s 150 years of unrequited drilling is burning away,” Johnson said. “As he acknowledged today, Obama must strive on to finish the work we are in, to do all which may achieve freedom from the tyranny of fossil fuels. If he does not confront the scourge of climate change, he will let our nation perish.”