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Obama lays out ambitious agenda, pledges action on climate change

From the February 14, 2013 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published February 14, 2013

By Robert Varela
Editorial Director
Climate change figured prominently in President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night, but he also called for action on a range of issues affecting public power, including cyber security, tax reform, energy efficiency, clean energy, energy research and new infrastructure. 

"[F]or the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change," the president said. "But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy."

Saying "we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth," Obama urged Congress to "pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change." He pointed to a 2003 cap-and-trade bill drafted by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., which failed in the Senate by a vote of 43 to 55. 

Obama made a strong pitch for the science behind climate change: "We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it’s too late."

More executive action on climate change seems certain, given the odds against Congress passing a cap-and-trade or similar bill to address the issue.

Obama called for more wind and solar power, saying, "As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we." He proposed using "some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good."

"We need to encourage" the shale gas boom by continuing to cut red tape and speed up new oil and gas permits as part of an all-of-the-above plan, Obama said. "But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and our water."

"Let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years," the president said. In a variation on the "Race to the Top" education program, he said those states "with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make that happen."

Another Obama proposal is for "a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children."

The president used the speech to announce his signing of an executive order on cyber security (see story below) and also called on Congress to pass "legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks." Enemies are seeking the ability "to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, our air traffic control systems," he said. "We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy."

Obama urged Congress to pass bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform and said "we should do what leaders in both parties have already suggested and save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and the well-connected."

In the Republican response, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., emphasized the need for economic growth to reduce the federal deficit and said the energy industry offers one of the best ways to encourage growth. Solar and wind energy should be a part of our energy portfolio, but the United States has abundant coal, oil, and natural gas, he said. "Instead of wasting more taxpayer money on so-called clean-energy companies like Solyndra, let’s open up more federal lands for safe and responsible exploration. And let’s reform our energy regulations so that they’re reasonable and based on common sense."

In accusing President Obama of falsely attacking the motives of his opponents, Rubio said, "When we point out that no matter how many job-killing laws we pass, our government can’t control the weather, he accuses us of wanting dirty water and dirty air."

On tax reform, Rubio endorsed simplifying the tax code and lowering the corporate tax rate.


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Senior Vice President, Publishing 
Jeanne Wickline LaBella

Editorial Director
Robert Varela

Editor, Public Power Daily
Jeannine Anderson

Communications Assistant
Fallon W. Forbush

Manager, Integrated Media 
David L. Blaylock

Integrated Media Editor 
Laura D’Alessandro