The past week has marked Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address, where the president traditionally outlines his agenda and priorities for the coming year, as well as reporting on the condition of the United States. As far as climate change is concerned, Obama seems to be continuing the approach we have seen him taking in the past months – while it is probably important to him, there are apparently many other issues that are more pressing and deserve a larger share of his attention.
In fact, he did not even mention climate change per se, other than referring to the (energy and) climate bill that was passed in the House over the summer, and even that, only as it relates to clean energy. Clean energy by the way – as far as Obama is concerned – is apparently nuclear (Obama’s proposed budget for 2011, to be sent to Congress on Monday, contains a tripling of government loan guarantees for nuclear power), offshore oil and gas, biofuels and clean coal. There was no mention of solar nor of wind, and the word ‘renewable’ was never used throughout the 71 minutes speech.
Once again, Obama skirts around the issue of climate change, referring only to clean energy, energy security and jobs. High speed rail is not a matter of moving away from dirty fuels used in planes and cars, but rather a way to create jobs. And it does not seem to take higher priority than building new highways. Apparently the Recovery Act should be enough to prevent “Europe or China [from] hav[ing] the fastest trains” (it’s not), as there was no mention of continuing investing in rail infrastructure beyond the one off investment in the Act.
Obama continues not to show strong leadership when it comes to climate change. He says he is grateful to the House for passing its bill last summer and that he is eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate, yet he does not mention what he would like to see in such a bill, he does not use this rare platform to move the discussion forward.
This was not the case in other issues – he used the SOTU to give quite a talking to to Republicans, especially in the Senate, for being continually obstructive and for focusing only on the next election rather than on governing the country. He made a gentle veto threat “if the [financial reform] bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform”. Why then didn’t Obama even mention what a good climate bill should contain in his opinion? Why is there no mention of cap-and-trade or some other mechanism to reduce carbon emissions? Pandering to wavering Democrats and potential Republican allies is all very well, but what about showing the way? What about using this opportunity to outline his plans and his vision, as he has done with financial reform or Afghanistan?
Already, in the aftermath of the SOTU, business leaders such as Tom Donahue, President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a well known antagonist to the House climate bill, and John Rice, a vice chairman of General Electric Co. pointed to the fact that America has a lot on its plate, and therefore a cap and trade bill is not likely to be passed in the coming year.
This is how momentum is brought to a halt…