Obama tells nation “It begins with energy. We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century.” Asks Congress for “market-based cap on carbon”

Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress (text here) had to focus on the economy in this greatest of downturns since the great depression.

Yet he made clear that even in these darkest of times — indeed, especially in these darkest of times — we must make clean energy a top priority, we must address our dependence on oil, and we must “save our planet from the ravages of climate change” if we are to remain a great nation:

We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before….

Now is the time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down….

The recovery plan and the financial stability plan are the immediate steps we’re taking to revive our economy in the short-term. But the only way to fully restore America’s economic strength is to make the long-term investments that will lead to new jobs, new industries, and a renewed ability to compete with the rest of the world. The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil….

We are a nation that has seen promise amid peril, and claimed opportunity from ordeal. Now we must be that nation again. That is why, even as it cuts back on the programs we don’t need, the budget I submit will invest in the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future: energy, health care, and education.

Here is where he gets specific on clean energy and climate action:

It begins with energy.

We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.

Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders — and I know you don’t either. It is time for America to lead again.

Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years. We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history — an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.

We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.

As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink. We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices. But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it. Scores of communities depend on it. And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy. But this is America. We don’t do what’s easy. We do what is necessary to move this country forward….

I think about Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completely destroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community — how it can bring jobs and businesses to a place where piles of bricks and rubble once lay. “The tragedy was terrible,” said one of the men who helped them rebuild. “But the folks here know that it also provided an incredible opportunity.”

… And if we do — if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, “something worthy to be remembered.”

Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

Kudos to Obama for understanding that the economic health and well-being of this generation — and of our children and their children and the next 50 generations after that — requires that we keep a laserlike focus on aggressive action on clean energy and climate.

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16 Responses to Obama tells nation “It begins with energy. We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century.” Asks Congress for “market-based cap on carbon”

  1. Rick says:

    What can we do to stop Presidents of either party from using the oxymoron ‘clean coal’ because last time I checked, it is coal that will sink Titanic Earth.

  2. Spaceman Spiff says:

    And David Brooks, live on the New Hour (PBS), ripped Gov. Bobby Jindal a new one for his opposition response speech which when it wasn’t presenting the usual nitpicking was long on tired, worn out ideas.

  3. Rick C says:

    Governor Jindall’s mocking of high speed rail, new high voltage DC power lines, government purchases of plug-in hybrid vehicles are breathtaking considering the price paid at the pump for gasoline just this last summer. It’s as if he forgot that part of his speech where he stated cheap gasoline prices wouldn’t last forever. With the production of oil predicted to decline 30% by 2015 we will have to go on a crash building program to increase mass-transit, high speed rail, the high voltage DC power lines to provide the power to get to the cities to power this stuff. Jindall just wants tax cuts for the top 2% so they can squander it again as they always have but on our dime.

  4. EricG says:

    What do you think Obama means when he says: “And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.” My literal interpretation is that he is referring to funding research. That doesn’t make sense to me. How could we spend that much on R&D? If these funds were used to directly build generation, transmission, distribution, rail (both high speed passenger and freight), etc. I think we’d be much better off. Am I misinterpreting “develop technologies”?

  5. Mark says:

    Good speech. I was pleasantly surprised that he mentioned the inspiring Greensburg story.

  6. Sounds like great little steps on the big journey:

    1. Make clean energy sources
    2. Eliminate dirty energy sources

    That’s it. All done.

  7. Pierre-Emmanuel Neurohr says:

    “As we stand at this crossroads of history, the eyes of all people in all nations are once again upon us, watching to see what we do with this moment, waiting for us to lead.”

    Your obsession with “leading” other people is so insulting for the rest of us (you know, this thing called “world”).

    Who said we – the rest of the world – must be led by you? We don’t want to be led by you. You have the most catastrophic way of life that could be dreamt up in a nightmare, so much so that you’re “leading” the destruction of the (climate of the) earth. You seriously think that you can change that by putting adjectives in front of nouns: “green”, “sustainable”, whatever cars, planes, coal, agrofuels, etc. And you want us to be led by you? What a sick joke.

    I love lots of American citizens, but I do not ask to be led by them. Get real.

  8. DavidONE says:


    I understand your sentiment (I’m British), but the leader of the planet’s only superpower is able to do great good – or great damage (exhibit a: George W. Bush).

    Obama can provide moral leadership that makes it much more likely that our respective governments take decisive action with regard climate change. His ‘leadership’ is not a literal one – many of his speeches have touched on the issue that the USA needs to work with other nations and not attempt to dictate to them.

    As we witnessed with Bush’s catastrophic 8 year reign, other leaders could follow his example and get away with it – Blair being the obvious, cowardly example.

    Also, consider the nightmare we would now be living if McCain / Palin had won – “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” and “Drill, baby, drill”. If McCain didn’t ignite World War III, Palin would have nailed the coffin shut with regards carbon emissions and the USA’s march back to the scientific Dark Ages.

    Like it or loathe it, the USA plays a disproportionate role in defining the direction of world politics and policy. Fortunately, there is now a scientifically literate, intelligent, compassionate man in the White House now. We can all be happy about that – and do what we can do make our respective leaders follow his lead on climate change.

  9. Maarten says:

    Leadership by the US does not preclude leadership by others.

  10. Greg Robie says:

    To those of older and, potentially, wiser nations, ours is both young and foolish. We are full of ourselves. Like any adolescent, have little interest in real wisdom. We are lost to our feel-good feelings and know little of what it is to act as an adult. The framing of the President’s address to the joint session of Congress last night, even the venue itself, panders to our psychological condition; a condition that has to change for meaningful (for humanity) change to happen. As is often blogged about here, we are a culture lacking both the language and the concept of sustainability.

    The quote of the President Joe has opened this post with is an example of this. It is not a matter of leading, as in being/retaining the top dog status in an economic fight, but leading, as in building a new economy based on cooperation and sharing, and being the most altruistic and materially poor (as an adult might do for the sake of their children).

    Maybe, should OPEC bless the Euro with the gift/curse of being the currency needed to purchase OPEC oil you will have a chance to show us/US what a responsible adult does with such power and privilege. We clearly have been without a clue as to what to do with the responsibility this relationship has created.

  11. Trend21 says:

    Joe, any comments on these news? It seems like Obama is not as commited with climate as he/you made us believe…

  12. Lou Grinzo says:

    If Americans telling ourselves that we’re leading is what’s needed to get us to do the right thing, I think it’s a small price for the rest of the world to pay. I mean, you can always ignore that and smile as you watch our CO2 emissions decline.

  13. CTF says:

    Don’t get me wrong–I’m thrilled that after the last eight years, we have a President who is committed to solving the climate change problem. I am a little irked by the presentation of a cap and trade as a fait accompli even while Majority Leader Reid, Secretary Chu and even FedEx are all talking about the possibility of a revenue-neutral carbon tax though. I really think it’s impossible to get the best solution if we are only willing to discuss one of the options.

  14. James Newberry says:

    Unfortunately President Obama has on his official energy policy agenda the construction of more coal plants as well a giant natural gas line from Canada. This is dirty energy and shows some hypocracy in relation to his clean energy economy rhetoric. I think his senior advisors are letting him down or they don’t know much about “sustainable energy.”

  15. Roger says:

    To my way of thinking: Axe the cap, and fast track the tax! Duh…

    Otherwise we’re right back to a situation where bankers and Wall Street types will be pulling the strings, and draining cash from the complex system of cap and trade, while citizens and lawmakers try to figure out which shell hides the pea. “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me…”etc.

    Botom line: the price of carbon goes up. For God’s sake, keep it simple!

  16. CTF says:

    Roger makes a good point: do we really want to create another highly politicized market a la the mortgage-backed securities market? A revenue-neutral carbon tax is the most straightforward and transparent model out there. And although tax is a “dirty word” among politicians and the people who elect them, I think the time has come to find the best solution–not the easiest one–and pass it without all of the concessions to lobbyists.