Obama Vows to Act on Climate in State of the Union

Written by Lisa Hayden on . Posted in Act

Editor’s Note: After President Obama mentioned climate change prominently in his inaugural address in January, climate watchers were wondering how much attention the issue might receive in his State of the Union speech – and more importantly what it will mean for progress in addressing the problem. So, last night, many supporters of more decisive U.S. action on climate change were cheering as the President focused a section of his hour-long speech on energy and climate policy. Even with prospects for Congressional action on climate legislation remaining a challenge, President Obama made it clear that he will not shy away from using his administrative authority to act. Below is the excerpt from his speech, followed by reaction from The Nature Conservancy's President & CEO Mark Tercek.

Energy and climate excerpt from President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address:

...After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future.  We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years.  We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar – with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it.  We produce more natural gas than ever before – and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it.  And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.  Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend.  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 good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth.  I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.  But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.  I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it.  We’ve begun to change that.  Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America.  So let’s generate even more.  Solar energy gets cheaper by the year – so let’s drive costs down even further.  As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

In the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence.  That’s why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.  But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water. 

Indeed, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together.  So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.  If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we.  Let’s take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long.  I’m also issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years.  The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen. ...

Following the speech, The Nature Conservancy released a statement from its President and CEO, Mark Tercek, regarding the President’s  comments, which read in part:

"President Obama recognized that climate change is an acute risk to the well-being of people across the Earth. Climate change is here, now, demanding a global response. I am grateful that President Obama has expressed a determination to move ahead in a bipartisan way.

“The costs of unrestrained climate change will far outweigh the costs of reducing the carbon emissions that are causing climate change. The single most reckless, risky and costly choice would be to do nothing. Tonight, I’m happy to see our President taking the lead to move forward.

The need to respond to a changing planet is now firmly on the national agenda… We at The Nature Conservancy recommend some important next steps, such as: putting a price on carbon; investing in research and development that can lead to discoveries applicable in other countries like China and India; and facilitating the siting of renewable energy. And we strongly endorse the President’s call for cutting energy waste, which is the least-cost way of reducing carbon emissions.

“While we can and should reduce the risk of ongoing carbon emissions, we also must cope with the impacts of climate change that cannot now be avoided, such as sea level rise and more severe and erratic weather patterns that result in increased storms, heat waves, floods and droughts. Whenever and wherever possible, we should invest in natural defenses such as the protection of natural floodplains and the restoration of coastal features like oyster reefs, marshes, sand dunes and wetlands that help reduce risks by acting as buffers to waves and higher tides. ...

“The president also called for cutting red tape in energy development. It is our view that when energy and other facilities are being sited and designed, we should avoid the most sensitive locations, minimize the impacts through good design, and compensate for those impacts that cannot be avoided. This should be done on a large scale, and be planned in advance of siting decisions..."

Lisa Hayden is a writer for The Nature Conservancy

Photo by: Flickr user kendoman26 (Wind turbines on farmland in Illinois.) Used under a Creative Commons license.

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Planet Change is a Nature Conservancy blog site designed to share stories about actions the Conservancy and others around the world are taking to fight carbon pollution and the impacts of climate change, and to help people feel the connections between climate change and their daily lives and understand actions they can take.

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