In his final State of the Union address, President Obama chose to forego a lengthy recitation of his policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions and of his other environmental accomplishments.
After noting that the scientific debate over climate change is long since over (today’s climate deniers must be “pretty lonely”), Obama instead highlighted two developments that will accelerate America’s transition to a clean energy economy.
A flexible grid: Coming soon to every town?
Addressing the growing political consensus around a more flexible electric grid, the president cited the collaboration between “environmentalists and Tea Partiers” in support of new, decentralized systems for generating and storing power locally.
That is the kind of new thinking about microgrids and smart electricity systems that Environmental Defense Fund is fighting for in states across the country. Such systems can also transcend partisan divides.
A new plan for fossil fuel projects on public lands
Importantly, the president also called for an accelerated departure from reliance on “dirty energy” – the fuels of the past.
In a new proposal, Obama announced a plan to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, “so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.”
For at least 140 years, the federal government has been leasing publicly owned natural resources on public lands. For most of that time, the government has been offering lease terms designed to maximize production of fossil fuels.
Last night, the president said he wants to change that. Instead, he wants higher fees and royalty payments to cut subsidies for fuels that worsen the climate.
And he wants to use the new funds to support local communities where the mining and drilling occur, and to help rebuild America’s transportation system – a much better return for the taxpayers.
Obama’s record on climate change
In his speech, President Obama took no victory lap on his environmental, energy and climate record – even though he deserves one. Many of the elements of his signature Climate Action Plan will deliver ever-deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions for years to come. The administration’s:
- Clean Power Plan will, for the first time, impose carbon emissions limits on the nation’s aging fleet of coal-fired power plants.
- vehicle fuel economy standards are already working to double vehicle efficiency by 2025 and to drive the introduction of new low and zero-emitting vehicle technologies.
- methane reduction rules for the oil and gas industry and appliance efficiency standards will also lower emissions.
- breakthrough diplomacy that brought China to the table as a partner helped forge the unprecedented international climate agreement in Paris last year.
Though President Obama mentioned none of those landmark achievements in his speech, it’s clear they are all based on a unifying set of beliefs that have made him an environmental champion.
Having inherited an economy with more than 10 percent unemployment, collapsing industries, and disappearing jobs and household savings, the president has stuck to his core environmental principles.
Speaking of his climate agenda last night, he reminded us that, “the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, and the planet we’ll preserve – that’s the kind of future our kids and grandkids deserve.”