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In today’s big economic speech, Obama reaffirms his commitment to a clean energy economy and strong climate bill: “The only way to truly spark this transformation is through a gradual, market-based cap on carbon pollution”

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"In today’s big economic speech, Obama reaffirms his commitment to a clean energy economy and strong climate bill: “The only way to truly spark this transformation is through a gradual, market-based cap on carbon pollution”"

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We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand….

Some have argued that we shouldn’t attempt such a transition until the economy recovers, and they are right that we have to take the costs of transition into account.  But we can no longer delay putting a framework for a clean energy economy in place.  If businesses and entrepreneurs know today that we are closing this carbon pollution loophole, they will start investing in clean energy now.  And pretty soon, we’ll see more companies constructing solar panels, and workers building wind turbines, and car companies manufacturing fuel-efficient cars.  Investors will put some money into a new energy technology, and a small business will open to start selling it.  That’s how we can grow this economy, enhance our security, and protect our planet at the same time.

The status quo establishment media keeps trying to claim that Obama is backing away from his climate and energy plans, that he is supposedly growing more “cautious” (see story #4 here).  And this is in spite of the fact that the president himself continues to go out of his way to restate his commitment to these urgent issues and push hard for action (see Obama says his energy plan and cap-and-trade “will be authorized” even if it’s not in the budget “and I will sign it” “” Washington Post confused.)

Another tremendous example is the big speech on the economy he just delivered this morning.  Given the need to talk about key issues like mortgages and Detroit and banks and job losses and the stimulus and bailout, Obama could have easily kept to a narrow message, which is what the do-nothing “centrist” pundits want.

But once again the President showed that he understands what the pundits don’t — the country has no sustainable future without strong action on energy and climate.  Here is what he said:

So today, I want to step back for a moment and explain our strategy as clearly as I can.  I want to talk about what we’ve done, why we’ve done it, and what we have left to do.  I want to update you on the progress we’ve made, and be honest about the pitfalls that may lie ahead.

And most of all, I want every American to know that each action we take and each policy we pursue is driven by a larger vision of America’s future – a future where sustained economic growth creates good jobs and rising incomes; a future where prosperity is fueled not by excessive debt, reckless speculation, and fleeing profit, but is instead built by skilled, productive workers; by sound investments that will spread opportunity at home and allow this nation to lead the world in the technologies, innovations, and discoveries that will shape the 21st century.  That is the America I see.  That is the future I know we can have….

For even as too many were chasing ever-bigger bonuses and short-term profits over the last decade, we continued to neglect the long-term threats to our prosperity:  the crushing burden that the rising cost of health care is placing on families and businesses; the failure of our education system to prepare our workers for a new age; the progress that other nations are making on clean energy industries and technologies while we remain addicted to foreign oil; the growing debt that we’re passing on to our children.  And even after we emerge from the current recession, these challenges will still represent major obstacles that stand in the way of our success in the 21st century.

There is a parable at the end of the Sermon on the Mount that tells the story of two men.  The first built his house on a pile of sand, and it was destroyed as soon as the storm hit.  But the second is known as the wise man, for when “”¦the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house”¦it fell not:  for it was founded upon a rock.”

We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand.  We must build our house upon a rock.  We must lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity – a foundation that will move us from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest; where we consume less at home and send more exports abroad.

It’s a foundation built upon five pillars that will grow our economy and make this new century another American century: new rules for Wall Street that will reward drive and innovation; new investments in education that will make our workforce more skilled and competitive; new investments in renewable energy and technology that will create new jobs and industries; new investments in health care that will cut costs for families and businesses; and new savings in our federal budget that will bring down the debt for future generations.  That is the new foundation we must build.  That must be our future – and my Administration’s policies are designed to achieve that future….

The third pillar of this new foundation is to harness the renewable energy that can create millions of new jobs and new industries.  We all know that the country that harnesses this energy will lead the 21st century.  Yet we have allowed other countries to outpace us on this race to the future.

Well, I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders.  It is time for America to lead again.

The investments we made in the Recovery Act will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years.  And we are putting Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions on our energy bills and grow our economy at the same time.

But the only way to truly spark this transformation is through a gradual, market-based cap on carbon pollution, so that clean energy is the profitable kind of energy.  Some have argued that we shouldn’t attempt such a transition until the economy recovers, and they are right that we have to take the costs of transition into account.  But we can no longer delay putting a framework for a clean energy economy in place.  If businesses and entrepreneurs know today that we are closing this carbon pollution loophole, they will start investing in clean energy now.  And pretty soon, we’ll see more companies constructing solar panels, and workers building wind turbines, and car companies manufacturing fuel-efficient cars.  Investors will put some money into a new energy technology, and a small business will open to start selling it.  That’s how we can grow this economy, enhance our security, and protect our planet at the same time.

Hear!  Hear!

He ends with words that I hope the establishment media takes the time to absorb;

For too long, too many in Washington put off hard decisions for some other time on some other day. There’s been a tendency to score political points instead of rolling up sleeves to solve real problems.  There is also an impatience that characterizes this town – an attention span that has only grown shorter with the twenty-four hour news cycle, and insists on instant gratification in the form of immediate results or higher poll numbers.  When a crisis hits, there’s all too often a lurch from shock to trance, with everyone responding to the tempest of the moment until the furor has died away and the media coverage has moved on, instead of confronting the major challenges that will shape our future in a sustained and focused way.

This can’t be one of those times.  The challenges are too great.  The stakes are too high.  I know how difficult it is for Members of Congress in both parties to grapple with some of the big decisions we face right now.  It’s more than most congresses and most presidents have to deal with in a lifetime.

But we have been called to govern in extraordinary times.  And that requires an extraordinary sense of responsibility – to ourselves, to the men and women who sent us here, and to the many generations whose lives will be affected for good or for ill because of what we do here.

There is no doubt that times are still tough.  By no means are we out of the woods just yet.  But from where we stand, for the very first time, we are beginning to see glimmers of hope.  And beyond that, way off in the distance, we can see a vision of an America’s future that is far different than our troubled economic past.  It’s an America teeming with new industry and commerce; humming with new energy and discoveries that light the world once more.  A place where anyone from anywhere with a good idea or the will to work can live the dream they’ve heard so much about.

It is that house upon the rock.  Proud, sturdy, and unwavering in the face of the greatest storm.  We will not finish it in one year or even many, but if we use this moment to lay that new foundation; if we come together and begin the hard work of rebuilding; if we persist and persevere against the disappointments and setbacks that will surely lie ahead, then I have no doubt that this house will stand and the dream of our founders will live on in our time.  Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

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16 Responses to In today’s big economic speech, Obama reaffirms his commitment to a clean energy economy and strong climate bill: “The only way to truly spark this transformation is through a gradual, market-based cap on carbon pollution”

  1. Mike D says:

    Hot damn that man can speechify

  2. Sasparilla says:

    Fantastic…

  3. Wes Rolley says:

    He can also compromise.. sometimes too easily.

    I would be more comfortable if he had a Congress that reacts to his rhetoric. Instead, we have a Congress that reacts to whatever special interest rules the political life of their state / district. There will never be 60 votes for any bill that puts any limit on coal as long as Byrd and Rockefeller have to be counted on the other side.

    There will never be any recognition of the implication of agricultural practices on global warming as long as we have Senators like Boxer even who comments that “We have our rice people and we have our cotton people.”

    All politics is local and local means what have you done for me local. If we are going to solve these problems, it will only happen when we start hearing local leaders emulate Obama’s approach. It has not happened yet… not in my town and not with my state legislature… nor California’s Congressional delegation.

  4. SecularAnimist says:

    Obama said: “If businesses and entrepreneurs know today that we are closing this carbon pollution loophole, they will start investing in clean energy now … Investors will put some money into a new energy technology …”

    Good, but Obama is behind the curve. Investors are already putting lots of money into new energy technologies, and have been for some time. The number one recipient of venture capital investment in the USA in 2008 was Nanosolar, a manufacturer of high-efficiency, thin-film photovoltaics.

    Not to disparage Obama’s proposals — obviously we need to put a price on carbon, so that markets are forced to internalize the costs of carbon pollution. And obviously we need policies like a national renewable portfolio standard, and a national feed-in tariff requirement for utilities, and expanded investment tax credits for wind and solar, and measures to streamline the regulatory processes for siting and building new CSP plants and wind turbine farms, and loan guarantees to stimulate investment in new solar and wind manufacturing capacity. And some government-funded R&D would help too, although there is plenty of private R&D already being done, and plenty of new technology that’s ready for commercialization.

    But the “smart money” has been going into wind and solar for a while now. The investors don’t need a push from government; they have been waiting for government to catch up.

  5. Jim Beacon says:

    I love his speeches. I voted for him. But now, instead of telling us exactly what he has done and will do as he promised in his opening paragraph he tells us nothing we haven’t heard from him before — no real details, no explanation as to why Cap and Trade will work (when so many do not believe it will). No specifics on how much he will invest in clean energy or when, or how it will be divided up. Tax credits or grants or co-ownership or what? At this point — since he won’t tell us details — I’m guessing the distribution will come down to 15% to solar, 15% to wind and 70% to new nuclear plants, natural gas pipelines and maybe even a few new oil refineries to replace our old ‘inefficient’ plants. Most of it will be in the form of tax credits, which fledgling enterprises and small businesses can’t really take that much advantage of, since they don’t have the huge profits the tax credits can used to offset.

    The speeches with the stirring sentiment and no details were great for getting elected, but now that he’s got the job, we need the details. As I’ve said before, I can’t see how Cap and Trade — particularly if it is ‘gradual’ — will achieve any truly significant CO2 reduction over the next 10 to 15 years. It’s a paper-trading mechanism that will allow emissions to continue as they are now, with maybe some limited occasional extra paper cost assigned to a company by Cap and Trade which will be passed on directly to the utility consumers on their higher bills and result in no real pain to the polluter itself.

    The Cap and Trade concept evolved over a 30 year period of mostly Republican Presidents and Congresses. It is known as “flexible regulation” which would be a pretty funny oxymoron if people didn’t take it so seriously.

    For a simple analogy: I like to speed in my new Mercedes and so have already used up all my “speeding allowance credits” with the police. If I get another speeding ticket for doing 120 in a school zone, rather than pay the ticket, take the big hit to my insurance rates for the next 3 years and maybe lose my license, under Ticket and Trade flexible regulation I can pay someone else who is a good driver who needs $200 bucks cash right now to sell me some of his “speeding allowance credits”. I’m cool with the law, my insurance rates don’t go up, I keep my license to drive, my official driving record stays clean, and I have NO REAL INCENTIVE to stop speeding.

    Cap and Trade appeals to industry because it basically allows for business as usual once they get their lawyers and accounts to work their razzle dazzle on the “trading” part of Cap and Trade.

    We don’t need incentives — we non-adjustable limits on CO2 emissions, particularly on the worst large-scale offenders, the electric power companies. Instead the Obama plan will given the power companies the *most* pollution credits to play around with! Huh?

    The only thing that will really work *quickly* is a strong 21st Century version of the clean air laws of the 1970′s — but without the loopholes and provisions for deadline extensions that crippled the Clean Air Act. I thought that’s what I was voting for when I cast my ballot for Obama. Clearly I was mislead by the wonderful speeches.

  6. Anonymous says:

    It’s a paper-trading mechanism that will allow emissions to continue as they are now – Jim Beacon

    I agree 100%

  7. Jeff R. says:

    Mr. Secular Animist.
    You said,

    “Good, but Obama is behind the curve. Investors are already putting lots of money into new energy technologies, and have been for some time.”

    No. You don’t grasp the scale of the capital commitment that is necessary for a major overhaul of our energy services infrastructure. A credible commitment from the federal government to “close the carbon loophole” (as he brilliantly puts it!).

    The Bellwether for when the markets have accepted this commitment is when ExxonMobil, Chevron stocks are 1/10 of what they are today. (No, electric utility shares will not inevitably fall – but they might.)

  8. Jeff R. says:

    [correction]

    Mr. Secular Animist.
    You said,

    “Good, but Obama is behind the curve. Investors are already putting lots of money into new energy technologies, and have been for some time.”

    No. You don’t grasp the scale of the capital commitment that is necessary for a major overhaul of our energy services infrastructure. A credible commitment from the federal government to “close the carbon loophole” (as he brilliantly puts it!) must be made, and proposed energy legislation is just such a commitment.

    The Bellwether for when the markets have accepted this commitment is when ExxonMobil, Chevron stocks are 1/10 of what they are today. (No, electric utility shares will not inevitably fall – but they might.)

  9. Pangolin says:

    All without installing any actual hardware to make clean power or reduce fossil fuel consumption. My reading of the Waxman bill is that it sends money everywhere but to the actual installation of the hardware that will diminish the market for coal.

    If I’m wrong about this, please, please, point out exactly how much of the moneys specified in the bill will go towards funding equipment instead of smokescreens

  10. Kaitlin says:

    I am not sure why we have to wait on transforming this society into a cleaner, greener, more environmentally friendly place until the recession and economy has settled.

    Wouldn’t restructuring how we do business and limiting pollutants and what not demand more alternative source and stimulate new technology and jobs? If we actually had stricter regulations on coal and carbon emissions it would seem those companies would be forced to innovate and conform with the laws, but I suppose that is a naive view, and caps could only make pay offs and under handed plans more alluring and popular.

    So I guess the question is really, how do we get everyone to go along with getting away from coal? How do you quit lining big business’ pockets with the nasty residue of carbon?

  11. ecostew says:

    Kaitlin, are watching the EPA on the issue?

  12. john says:

    Whenever I have problems with Obama — and I do — I remember bush, and everything seems quite tolerable.

    I have the sense that this man is turning the battleship, and that it takes time and care. but he wants to steer the ship of state in the same direction I do.

    It’ll be OK. (If he fires Summers and Geithener)

  13. Neil Howes says:

    Replying to Jim Beacon’s “Ticket and Trade” if 1,000 have speeding tickets last year, this year’s “Ticket and trade” would be for 900, you may find that 1000 speeders are going to bid up the price way above $200, and next year the cap will be 800…., end RESULT fewer speeders.

    Focus on the CAP on CO2, this is the critical part, not the trade (no cap on price)which is a mechanism for reducing collateral damage. Taxes on CO2 do not guarantee results, CAPS do.

  14. CTF says:

    While I applaud the President’s aim of “closing this carbon pollution loophole” and spurring clean energy investment, I don’t think that the cap-and-trade system currently proposed on Capitol Hill is the best route to meet either of those goals. In fact, the carbon market already in place in Europe — a system described by the Washington Post in 2007 as a “bureaucratic morass with a host of unexpected and costly side effects and a much smaller effect on carbon emissions than planned” — plainly illustrates the shortcomings of this policy. And for that reason (and a myriad of others), economists, scientists and “green” opinion leaders are lining up behind other policy options, specifically, a revenue-neutral carbon tax. The bottom line is that a carbon tax isn’t subject to the extreme price volatility generated by an inflexible carbon cap. Consequently, its stable price would encourage new investors to put capital in new energy R&D and would incentivize U.S. businesses to invest in more efficient energy sources.

  15. David B. Benson says:

    Kaitlin — Have them burn algae or else biochar made from algae.

  16. Fantastic … I agree 100%