President Barack Obama's State of the Union remarks fell in line with what many energy experts, industry representatives and environmental advocates predicted to me earlier today -- lots of rhetoric yet little detail on how to tackle climate change and propel green energy.
Also unsurprisingly, his words on the issues have already generated a range of reactions.
Obama focused his clean energy comments not only on the promise of green jobs, as he primarily has in the past, but on the dire consequences of not taking action on climate change.
"Yes, it's true that no single event makes a trend," Obama said. "But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods -- all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science -- and act before it's too late."
The Institute for Energy Research was not impressed.
"It is telling that President Obama seemed more concerned about climate change than job creation, clearly following a well-worn path for this administration where no crisis goes to waste in pursuit of the President's progressive agenda," said IER president Thomas Pyle. "For this administration, a deadly hurricane means a chance for carbon taxes."
Frank Maisano, an energy strategist at the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani, was generally unexcited about the climate and energy section of Obama's speech, going as far as to suggest it "put everybody to sleep."
"His rhetoric was very similar to previous State of the Unions," Maisano told The Huffington Post. "And there was lots of similar hype from the environmental community in advance of it, and I suspect there will be following it."
Sure enough, responses so far from the environmental community appear animated -- and fairly positive.
Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, used the term "assertive" as she described the agenda Obama laid out for reducing carbon pollution.
"The president has a full box of tools to strike back at climate chaos," she said in a statement. "The best tool he has is the Clean Air Act. It gives him the authority to reduce the carbon pollution from our dirtiest power plants, the single greatest threat to our climate future. That will take presidential leadership. Americans are counting on it -- and that's what the president delivered tonight."
Trip Van Noppen, president of Earthjustice, offered a similarly optimistic response: "We applaud President Obama's commitment to 'reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy'," Van Noppen said in a statement. "The President's plan to 'cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years' is a great idea."
Forecast the Facts campaign director Daniel Souweine was more critical, however.
"While we are excited to hear the President connect the dots between climate change and increasingly severe weather, accurately explaining the problem is not nearly enough," he said in a statement. "Tonight, President Obama set the lowest possible bar for action -- he did not pledge to stop the carbon-spewing Keystone XL Pipeline nor promise carbon regulations on existing power plants. In fact, he pledged no specific actions at all."
Going after something like existing power plants in the State of the Union would have been "too much in the weeds," said Maisano, revisiting his suggestion from earlier today that the speech is about "broad strokes."
Also much to the chagrin of some environmentalists, Obama emphasized energy independence heavily in terms of home-harvested oil and natural gas. "We produce more natural gas than ever before -- and nearly everyone's energy bill is lower because of it," he said.
Still, Pyle of the energy group IER suggested that Obama isn't moving fast enough on oil and gas. "The President promised to 'keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.' Yet his record is a more reliable indicator of his agenda than his rhetoric," he said. "Currently, it takes more than 300 days to get a permit to drill for oil or gas on federal lands, compared with 10 days in North Dakota where an energy boom has led to the lowest unemployment in the country. For all his talk of speeding up permits, it is telling that one permit remains on ice: the Keystone XL pipeline."
The President also pledged to continue the progress he's made in reducing carbon emissions -- from the doubling of renewable energy from wind and solar to increasing fuel economy standards for cars. He pleased environmentalists with a promise that, going forward, he won't let partisan politics get in his way.
"I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change," Obama said. "But if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will."
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