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Jan. 27 2010 - 9:34 pm | 380 views | 0 recommendations | 9 comments

State of the Union: Obama will allow nukes and offshore derricks in trade for a climate bill

Obama promoting the stimulus package in Elkhart in February. Photo: White House photo 2/9/09 by Pete Souza

White House photo 2/9/09 by Pete Souza

In his State of the Union address Wednesday night, President Obama tied prospects for a climate bill to concessions some environmentalists will find difficult to swallow: new oil derricks off of American coastlines and new nuclear power plants.

These concessions closely parallel those included in the framework for a new climate bill announced in December by Senators John Kerry (D-Mass), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Graham has been the weak link in that tri-partisan chain since passage of the health care bill, when he warned health care might cost the Democrats any Republican support for even a deeply weakened climate bill.

With Obama billing clean energy as domestic energy, and therefore as independence from foreign oil, it’s difficult for the Administration to cut nuclear energy and domestic oil production from its argument. But should those sources be developed in return for a carbon cap and trade program, burning the oil would help fund a carbon market.

The president’s remarks on climate:

Next, we need to encourage American innovation.  Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history – an investment that could lead to the world’s cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched.  And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy.  You can see the results of last year’s investment in clean energy – in the North Carolina company that will create 1200 jobs nationwide helping to make advanced batteries; or in the California business that will put 1,000 people to work making solar panels.

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives.  That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.  It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies.  And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.

I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year.  This year, I am 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; and I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change.  But 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.

As he did one year ago, Obama tied clean energy and other green initiatives to job creation. After saying tonight that “jobs will be our number one focus in 2010,” Obama will head to Tampa, Florida to announce the groundbreaking for a nationwide network of high-speed rail lines:

Next, 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.

Tomorrow, I’ll visit Tampa, Florida, where workers will soon break ground on a new high-speed railroad funded by the Recovery Act. There are projects like that all across this country that will create jobs and help our nation move goods, services, and information. 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.


2 T/S Member Comments Called Out, 9 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    Obama’s remarks on climate are nearly torture to read. Do they not stick in your craw? The Center for Biological Diversity, the only major organization to fight the massive condor-killing Tejon Ranch development in CA, gives Obama a C grade. What grade do you give him? To me, he’s coming off like a pimp for the Chamber of Commerce. We don’t need more oil. We don’t need more electricity. We don’t need more people. We need more conservation, fewer Americans and a smaller economy. If, as an environmentalist, you don’t believe this, please tell us why. Thanks.

    From your previous contribution, I am reposting my comment, in hopes you will address the pro-growth issues I raise:
    Concerning Obama’s pro-nuke, pro-offshore oil gambit, a much better card to play would have been immigration. By reducing immigration’s impacts on our population growth from the current 20 million or so per decade to, say, 5 million per decade he would reduce US energy demands/GHGE by about 5-6% and worldwide demand/GHGE by about 1%.
    Politically, this would be a master stroke, virtually assuring that a good climate bill gets through based on nationalistic/democratic/environmental principles, the very centrism he promised, rather than by growth-ist pandering to the oligarchs. Would this not be a better route to a climate bill than nukes and offshore oil (sic)?

    • collapse expand

      No, Bob, they don’t stick in my craw. They are substantively the same as the remarks he made last year, substantively the same as the remarks he made during the campaign. His notion that we can help the environment through capitalism is the same notion we’ve been working with all along, not because it’s perfect, but because it’s the only one that seems possible.

      I had to check out the rubric the Center for Biological Diversity is using to grade Obama. Their grade is based on his conformity to their agenda, regardless of its degree of practicality. which makes sense from their point of view, but makes less sense where the rubber meets the road. For example, they penalize Obama for promising CO2 cuts that are too small, even though it barely seems possible those cuts will get through the Senate. Larger cuts would seem to have no hope. And they say he “failed to push Congress” to enact a climate bill, even though we’ve gotten a climate bill through the House and through committee in the Senate. It’s like pushing a bowling ball into a Coke bottle. Instead of criticizing Obama for not pushing the bowling ball hard enough, how about considering the Coke bottle?

      I would like to assign grades to those who deserve them, if you don’t mind, and I would give the Senate an F for obstructing just about anything that resembles progress, and I would give the House a D- for passing legislation only when it has been watered down and laden with gifts to industry. Neither of those conditions are Obama’s fault. Those who criticize Obama for them are misplacing the blame and aiding the Republicans in their effort to recapture the White House. And the Bush nightmare is only one year behind us. You would think people would remember what that was like.

      Concerning immigration, there is comprehensive immigration reform, whatever that means, coming down the pipe, the White House has just announced, but it’s a separate pipe than the climate bill pipe. Which might be something immigration specialists like yourself might be happy about. Myself, I don’t think it makes more sense to reduce carbon emissions through immigration controls than through emissions controls.

      I do think a smaller world economy would be good for the earth, but it seems to be accepted as a global truth that development improves human lives. Much of the role of the government is to facilitate the economy, and anyone who advocated recession during recession, or even during growth, would probably have a hard time keeping his own job. “The state of the Union is sound. Now let’s make it smaller, have fewer people, fewer jobs.” Good for the earth for sure, but people wouldn’t wait until 2012 to throw him out.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    You should not be quite so dismissive as to call me an “immigration specialist.” It tempts me to create a term to describe you, an “environmentalist” who omits population from the sustainability equation, Impacts=Population X Affluence X Technological efficiency. Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day, did not omit it. But you do.
    In fact, I am well-informed on energy technology, well enough to know that technology alone won’t save us–neither in terms of global warming nor in terms of ecological footprint. When you leave population out of the equation, and you assume that Americans will not give up their affluence, indeed you end up where Obama has ended up, as a pro-growth “environmentalist,” sucking on the hind tit of the very corporations that got us into this pickle.
    But there are a number of ways to balance the jobs/population/economy/environment equation. By putting illegal employers in jail (Obama appears to be quietly doing more and more of this) some 12 million illegal aliens will self-deport, thereby “creating” many millions of “new” jobs” for US citizens/residents. On oil, he could create a revenue-neutral tax on gasoline, two dollars more at the pump, but a $500 income tax credit.
    Obama can simply tell the truth: We will create full employment by enforcing laws on illegal employers and by limiting immigration from the current 1.5 million per year instead of delivering another bag of meth to our corporate overlords. Obama doesn’t have to say: smaller economy, fewer people, fewer jobs, he simply has to say the magic words “full employment.” He’s brilliant at not saying stuff.
    The deal’s been cut, USAmericans get the lion’s share of new wealth, carbon emissions, so let’s not continue to pretend that in the carbon scheme a Mexican or Chinese or Algerian is the same as an American.
    Will you next be telling us that we can solve the equation E=mc2 without accounting for mass?

    • collapse expand

      You do call me an environmentalist in your previous comment, you silly fellow. I agree with you that population is a huge environmental issue. You, however, seem to be conflating population and immigration. They are not the same thing. And unfortunately, humans the world over closely guard their right to procreate. A reduction in human population would be excellent for the earth. But it’s even less politically viable a proposal than your other idea, reducing the size of the economy. On the bright side (sarcasm), if we fail to prevent global warming, we might end up seeing a reduction in human population.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    The part you don’t seem to get is that it is not a population problem, it is a population-resource problem. Population per se is one aspect, and high-consuming people/low-consuming people is another. That is why immigration matters. It matters in exactly the same way that the growing number of American-style consumers in India and China matters.
    I think you need to acknowledge that the conclusion of Copenhagen is that Americans will have the greater license to pollute for a very long time.
    If you say, well, (slow) population reduction isn’t viable and creating a smaller economy isn’t viable and controlling the conversion of low-consuming people’s into high-consuming peoples isn’t viable, well then sure, throwing our lot in with the likes of Westinghouse, General Electric, Mobil and Exxon, as you seem willing to do, is about all we got left.
    Jeff, if I found myself agreeing with the likes of Bush, McCain, Cheney and Palin as well as the US Chamber of Commerce and Dole, Tyson, Walmart, Del Monte, Hormel, Hilton Hotels to name a few, on open borders, as you do, it would give me pause to reflect on just what it is I’m missing.
    Indulging capitalism is not the same as regulating it.

  4. collapse expand

    If we reduce immigration so that we “only” grow to 375 million instead of 450 million by 2050, we will only need to build half as many nukes to keep up with electricity demand growth, 37 2-GW plants instead of 75 2-GW plants (I think those figures are right). Doesn’t building fewer nuclear plants sound like an environmentalist point of view? This is to speak nothing of the many other impacts of US population growth, 2/3 directly and indirectly due to immigration.

  5. collapse expand

    How can Obama hope that new nukes & offshore oil drilling would be bargaining chips for a climate bill if he’s already stated that he would use them? The usual suspects (from both parties) in Congress will just use that position as a starting point and demand further concessions, complaining that the Dems are being inflexible if they don’t hand out just another piece of candy, ad infinitum. Just as in the health care reform process, where Obama started the process giving concessions to pharmaceuticals.

    • collapse expand

      Good point, Russell. Where is the “change” in new nukes and increased offshore drilling? Change would be saying no to a growth economy and committing to sustainability–population stabilization, redefined affluence, greener tech as well as a wrinkle to the equation that I think needs to be added: more equitable distribution of wealth.
      For population that unavoidably means immigration reduction.
      For affluence it means such things as experiencing public transportation or cycling as a joy, heating or airconditioning just one or two rooms in one’s home, eating near-vegan . . .
      For tech it means wind energy before nuke and, for godsake, before offshore drilling.
      More equitable distribution of wealth means that people don’t need to feel compelled to buy into a growth economy so that there are more crumbs to fall off the table. And that leads back to immigration reduction . . .

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    About Me

    Environmental reporting recruited me 25 years ago—on my first day as a reporter for my college newspaper, when I discovered my college was discarding radioactive waste in the regular city trash. Since then I've written hard news for dailies, including the Arizona Republic, and slanty news for alternative weeklies, including Newcity. I've written a column for New Times, stories on the Web for Forecast Earth, essays for PEN International and other magazines. I lived in an idyllic California village nestled among volcanoes and vineyards until my batteries were full of sunshine, and then I returned to my origins on the South Side of Chicago, where hope persists with no illusions about the struggle ahead. I cross the asphalt jungle by bicycle and el, mostly to get to the University of Chicago, where I teach journalism. But what matters more than any of this is a lifelong love for the natural world. We are all born with it, I believe, but some turn away.

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