President Barack Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address focused on innovation, education and infrastructure. He indicated that he sees government investment as crucial to the emergence of clean energy and he further indicated that he would like to eliminate oil subsidies.
At the outset of his speech, he asked Republicans to “work together tomorrow.“ Saying that “the challenges are bigger than party or politics…to win the future we will need to take on challenges that were decades in the making.“
The President said, “the competition for jobs is real,“ but he continued, “the future is ours to win but we can’t get there by standing still….We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world, we need to make America the best place for doing business.“
According to President Obama, the way we will win the future is by investing in vital areas that keep America competitive. The President made it clear that he believes the government has an important role in support of global competitiveness, he refers to this challenge as “our generation’s Sputnik moment.“
From an environmental perspective, the defining moment of the speech came when he said with emphasis, we will invest, “especially in clean energy technology.“ He then showcased a solar start-up that reinvented itself.
By 2035, the President indicated that he wants to see 80 percent of America’s electricity derived from clean energy sources. He further said that he wants America to be “the first country to have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.“ Perhaps most importantly, he wants to eliminate oil subsidies.
Despite a difficult political climate, the Obama administration continues its push for clean energy and green jobs. This speech was a continuation of the American Recovery Act which contained $59 billion dollars for clean energy, with $400 million going to fund ARPA-E, a government lab for energy innovation.
The President continued to speak to the importance of infrastructure investment and his economic advisers’ recent report (pdf) made the case for investing now, while building costs are low and so much labor is available in construction. During his State of the Union address, the President proposed “redoubling“ infrastructure investments including giving Americans access to high speed rail and high speed internet.
Despite the President’s compelling arguments, he garnered predictable resistance from Republicans. Even before Republican gains at the midterm elections, Congress was unwilling to pass legislation to advance a clean energy economy. The failure of a market based cap on carbon pollution deprived the President of a major source of funding. This is significant because Republicans see government spending as the means by which they can defeat Obama in 2012.
Given the prevailing mood, the State of the Union address was ambitious, but in the President’s own words, “we do big things, that is how America will win the future.“ He concluded by saying, “our destiny remains our choice.“
President Obama has the most progressive clean energy agenda of any President in American history. However, the realization of his vision will be hampered by a population that has been swayed by Republican climate denial and misinformation from the old energy economy.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, sustainable investor and writer. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. He is also the author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, green investing, enviro-politics and eco-economics.