In his State of the Union address, President Obama drew some firm lines in the sand, including a strong defense of the importance of clean energy to America’s long-term economic prosperity.
The President ended 2011 with historic action to reduce mercury in our air, water, and food. Last night he stood by that action, declaring, "I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury poisoning, or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean."
The President also said, "I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy." He called for Congress to pass a clean energy standard and extend clean energy tax credits, while ending a century of tax subsidies for oil companies.
On natural gas, the President committed to full disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing on federal lands, but he missed an opportunity to lay out the bargain that must be struck. We can help revolutionize America’s energy picture with our newly abundant supplies of gas, but to do so responsibly, we must get the environmental rules right to protect our air, land and water wherever ‘fracking’ wells are drilled.
Getting the environmental rules right means disclosure of the chemicals used in drilling. It also means reasonable standards to ensure high-integrity well design, safe water and chemical management, and methane gas containment to prevent additional harm to our climate. With those kinds of safeguards in place, gas can reduce our environmental problems instead of increasing them. The blueprint for action already exists in the recommendations of the Secretary of Energy's Advisory Board. They must be swiftly implemented.
The President again rejected the false choice between a clean environment and jobs, saying, "we don't have to choose between the environment and our economy." His description of the remarkable comeback of American vehicle manufacturers, which are rapidly innovating to meet aggressive fuel economy standards, proved his point.
As he told the EPA staff in person earlier this month, "we don't have to choose between dirty air and dirty water or a growing economy. We can make sure that we are doing right by our environment, and, in fact, putting people back to work all across America."
He's right about that, but make no mistake -- in the weeks and months ahead, there will still be efforts in Washington to block efforts to change the environmentally-destructive and irresponsible course on which the nation, and the world, are bound.
We at EDF will continue working to remind our lawmakers, and all Americans, that the science of climate change is clear and so are the economics. The fact is that we can build a more sustainable future using market-based approaches that preserve public health and the environment while creating new businesses and new jobs for American workers.
Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading national nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. See twitter.com/EnvDefenseFund; facebook.com/EnvDefenseFund