State of the Energy Union: Obama shows way forward, GOP are stuck in the past

  • Published on January 25th, 2012

state of the union promise of clean american energyPresident Obama reaffirmed his commitment to a clean energy future for America last night in his State of the Union address. The Republican responses, on the other hand, underscored just how stuck in the past the leaders of the GOP remain.

From Indiana Governor Mitch Daniel’s official response (full text here) to the statements of the Party’s Presidential candidates, not one Republican leaders offered any vision or plan for how America can innovate, create technological breakthroughs, or lead the global clean energy market. One would think they live in some perverse, parallel universe.

President Obama offered a detailed blueprint for how a national clean energy standard, energy efficiency programs, tax credits for wind and solar projects, government support of advanced research, and other measures could create jobs and make America more energy independent.

Frances Beinecke, President of the NRDC Action Fund, states, “More than 100,000 people currently work in the solar industry, according to the National Solar Jobs Census. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the wind industry employs 85,000 Americans. And more than150,000 Americans currently have jobs making parts for and assembling clean cars — hybrids, electric cars, and other advanced vehicles that hardly existed 10 years ago.”

Neither Daniels nor Romney mentioned these enormous opportunities. Instead, they stuck to the same old call for more drilling. That’s their default button.

Funny thing was, President Obama already beat them to it. Much to our concern, energy companies drilled almost 21,000 oil wells in the first eight months of 2011 — the highest number in almost 30 years. That’s nearly double the amount drilling the same period in 2010, and nearly triple the number drilled in 2009.

Yet all that drilling hasn’t shielded us from price spikes. In 2011, the United States produced more oil than at any time since 2003, and yet gas prices still hit record highs. Oil prices are set on an international market and shaped by global forces beyond our control. We can’t rely on fossil fuels alone to power our economy. We need to develop additional homegrown resources like better performing cars, sustainable biofuels, and wind and solar power.

Americans agree. Nine in ten Americans — including 82 percent of Republicans and 91 percent of Independents — say developing renewable energy should be a priority for the president and Congress. But Republican leaders haven’t caught on yet.

In his response to the State of the Union Address, Romney made no reference to renewable power, efficiency, or any other clean solution. Daniels didn’t either. In fact, most of the Republicans focused on President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline last week – repeatedly misstating that this decision cost “tens of thousands of jobs.”

The truth is that Keystone XL would’ve created a few thousand jobs (only a few hundred permanent jobs) and the bulk of the oil would have been exported to other countries. But my bigger beef with this reasoning is — if Republicans are so concerned about jobs? Why are they fighting the very public safeguards that will create millions of new positions? Frances Beinecke once again points out that, “public health and environmental standards create jobs at the same time they protect our families from polluters… The number of Americans working as boilermakers grew by 35 percent between 1999 and 2001 because of updates in Clean Air Act standards. Taken together, the environmental technology sector has generated more than 1.7 million American jobs as of 2008.”

Why are those few thousand temporary jobs more important to the GOP then millions of good-paying jobs that can never be outsourced and will bring energy right here to our backyard?

Daniels misjudged the public on another key issue when he inserted a dig about light bulbs into his speech. This was a reference to the efficiency standard for light bulbs that will save consumers $10 million a year and that Congress and President Bush supported four years ago. I welcome a little humor in political discourse, but when Daniels mocked this standard, he sounded remarkably out of step. These light bulbs help prevent the need for 30 large power plans and all the pollution they generate. This helps make our families healthier.

Further, at a time when so many families are struggling, Daniels decides to ridicule a measure that will lower monthly utility bills. Just one company in Ohio – Lighting Science Group – has saved Americans more then $34 million in electricity costs each year.  The new standards will result in a savings of more then $12 billion per year in the form of lower electric bills. My family members — most of them are conservative Republicans — would never make fun of saving money because they value their hard-earned dollars.

This just another example of how out-of-touch Republican leaders are when it comes to energy. Most Americans want to save money on electric bills, drive cars that go farther on a gallon of gas, and expand clean energy. Today’s crop of Republican leaders doesn’t have anything to offer them.

Most Americans want to save money on electric bills, drive cars that go farther on a gallon of gas, and expand clean energy. Last night, this current crop of Republican leaders demonstrated anew that they have nothing to offer but the same dog-eared roadmap for the race to the bottom

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Heather Taylor-Miesle is the director of the NRDC Action Fund.

(Originally appeared at the NRDC Action Fund’s bog, The Markup)

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About the Author

Heather Taylor-Miesle is the Director of the NRDC Action Fund. With more than 13 years of experience in federal politics as a public interest lobbyist, political consultant and on Capitol Hill, she has expertise in federal energy, environmental health, and appropriations issues. Prior to becoming director of the NRDC Action Fund, Ms. Taylor-Miesle was the associate legislative director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the world’s premier environmental organizations. Prior to her position at the NRDC, Ms. Taylor-Miesle worked on Capitol Hill, first as an aide to now Governor Ted Strickland (D-OH) and then as a senior staff member for current Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis (D-CA). Follow Heather and NRDC's Action Fund on Facebook (www.facebook.com/nrdcactionfund).

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