Obama to Congress: Energy vital to nation's economic future

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Feb. 25 -- US President Barack Obama listed energy as one of three critical areas to the nation's economic future in his first primetime address to Congress on Feb. 24.

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

Obama told the joint session of the 111th Congress: "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."

The nation would double its supply of renewable energy within the next 3 years thanks to the recently enacted economic recovery plan, Obama said. "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," he said.

Thousands of miles of new power lines with be built to carry electricity from alternative and renewable sources to consumers, and thousands of people will go to work to make US homes and businesses more energy-efficient, Obama said.

Seeking carbon cap
The president said, "But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our plant 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 this innovation, we will invest $15 billion/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."

His call for a carbon cap produced different responses from the two leaders of the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) applauded it. "President Obama has it exactly right: We must 'transform our economy, protect our security and save our plant from the ravages of climate change.' We will work with the president and answer his call," she said after the president's speech.

The committee's ranking minority member, James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), did not approve of the idea. "Climate proposals should not be concealed under the guise of a deficit reduction tool. We learned last year during the Lieberman-Warner global warming cap-and-trade debate that the massive proposal represented the largest redistribution of wealth in the government's history and predetermined winners and losers," Inhofe said.

While Obama's remarks covered several topics, his general theme was that it was time for the US to make tough, necessary decisions to rebuild its economy after years of making the easy choices.

Obama said, "The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight, nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for."

'Our responsibility'
Obama said the recovery and financial stability plans he proposed are immediate short-term steps to revive the US economy. "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 and the high cost of health care; the schools that aren't preparing our children and the mountain of debt they stand to inherit. That is our responsibility," he stated.

Other congressional leaders responded following Obama's speech. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she understood that the US first needs to get out of its recession and make its economy grow again, and that she has already worked with Congress to create and save millions of jobs with the American Economy and Reinvestment Act.

"Now as we move forward to further strengthen the economy, it is essential that we make key investments to expand access and make health care more affordable, make America energy-independent, and ensure a strong education for all children. These investments will help make certain America is a world leader for generations to come," she maintained.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said Congress would follow through on the rest of Obama's agenda that he outlined in his remarks now that the initial economic recovery legislation has been passed. "I am also pleased that he emphasized how important it is that our nation return to budgetary sanity," he said.

"I thought the president gave a great speech," said US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). "Clearly he has a plan for how to solve our short-term economic challenges, but he also has a plan for getting our economic house in order for the long term as well."

'Back up our promises'
Republicans said they generally agreed with Obama's main goals but questioned his methods. "Middle-class families and small businesses across our nation are making sacrifices and tough budget decisions. It's time for Washington to do the same," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, adding, "We cannot afford to pile mountains more in debt on our children and grandchildren in order to pay for a spending spree that we simply cannot afford. It is time for both parties in Washington to back up our promises of fiscal responsibility with real action."

Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.), the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's ranking minority member, said she agreed with the president that energy is a top national priority and believes that developing a comprehensive and balanced energy policy is imperative to a strong economy.

"We can change our energy economy, but under the most optimistic scenarios we will be dependent on traditional energy sources during our transition," Murkowski said, adding, "We need to develop alternative and renewable energy sources, but we also must make sure that any national energy policy includes provisions that encourage increased domestic production of the resources that we currently rely upon to heat our homes, power our vehicles, and grow our economy."

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said, "There is plenty to agree with, as President Obama spoke in broad strokes of general policy. But one legitimate concern is whether or not Democratic leaders in Congress, like Nancy Pelosi, can produce legislation that actually promotes solutions instead of preventing them. The president certainly got one thing right: America is strong and we can get through this. History has shown that we have been through rougher times, even recently, and come out all right, mostly because of the strength and resolve of individual Americans. We should remember that real and permanent solutions come from American families and businesses, not from government."

Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the US must solve problems in four increasingly interconnected areas: nuclear proliferation, global energy security, global food security, and climate change. "In these times," he said, "it is important that our great nation does many important things well, that we lead, and do not default to only reacting to the latest crisis. We need to dedicate our leadership to significant issues and not be distracted by petty differences or inconsequential matters."

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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