The State of the Union: Clean Energy or Bust

There’s a lot of chatter about what President Obama is going to say in his State of the Union address this Wednesday. There’s no doubt that President Obama’a agenda, along with that of the Democrats has taken a serious blow of recent with the loss in Massachusetts. Obama has had a much more fiery, populist tone to his speeches and remarks in the last week, and the two buzzwords I read him focusing on in his State of the Union speech is jobs creation, and policies for the middle class. While I’m sure there will be a nice paragraph or two dedicated to clean energy and green jobs, I think President Obama should make clean energy the centerpiece of his address.

It’s a great opportunity to correct the greatest blunder of the Democrats and Obama’s Presidency. The House passed comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation with bi-partisan support, and poll after poll after poll found the public was strongly in favor of the bill and its provisions, including over 60% favorable in battleground states. This major legislative victory gave Obama and his party momentum which they could have taken to the Senate. With the looming “threat” of EPA regulation in Senators heads, strong public support for clean energy and climate, a popular President, and the House victory, the Democrats and Obama would’ve sealed the deal last fall with a bi-partisan Senate climate bill. Even leaving alone how much better this would’ve looked in Copenhagen, this would’ve been a phenomenal first year victory for the Democrats. A victory that would’ve given them much better chance in passing healthcare legislation, because far more intangibles would’ve been in their favor.

Oh well, they dropped the ball, and left John Kerry to buddy up with Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham, yes Republican LINDSEY GRAHAM from South Carolina, to salvage something amid collapsing public support for the Democrats and their policies. Incredibly, despite all the erosion, recent polling done by conservative pollster Frank Luntz shows bi-partisan public support for national climate legislation. Not surprisingly, the underlying reasons for this support are more about the ways to tie the legislation into jobs, national security, and corporate accountability.

“Americans want their leaders to act on climate change – but not necessarily for the reasons you think,” Luntz said. “A clear majority of Americans believe climate change is happening. This is true of McCain voters and Obama voters alike. And even those that don’t still believe it is essential for America to pursue policies that promote energy independence and a cleaner, healthier environment. In reference to recent political events, Luntz added: “People are much more interested in seeing solutions than watching yet another partisan political argument.”

“Americans see climate legislation as more than just corporate social responsibility. When given a list of business and economic reasons to support the legislation, the top choice mirrored the public’s highest priority for Washington and Wall Street: accountability. The exact language of the statement: “Cap and trade will limit the amount of pollution companies can emit, giving companies incentives to reduce emissions—and holding those who don’t accountable…”

Luntz concluded, “Americans want clean, safe, healthy, secure energy. That’s why Republicans and Democrats alike strongly support action to address climate change. Sure, Republicans are more concerned about the national security component and Democrats the health component, but support for action right now spans all partisan and ideological lines.”

The truth is the same today as it was last fall. Contrary to conventional wisdom, climate legislation has more going for it than health care, and far more upside for Obama and the Democrats than anything else they could possibly propose. Whether it’s the reduction of pollution from coal that damages human health at every stage of the lifecycle, reducing oil use by 6 million barrels a day, the creation of 1.7 million new green jobs, taking on big oil and big coal, bi-partisan support, or preventing climate catastrophe…there are plenty of winning messages for the activist base, the middle class, and especially the independent voters. They’ve stayed winners despite everything else going to hell. It just needs a firm push.

Four years ago, President Bush used his state of the union speech to declare we were addicted to foreign oil , which spread like wildfire in the public and the press. It was the most memorable part of his address, until he didn’t back it up.

Wednesday night is an opportunity for this President to pick up the baton the last one had no intention of carrying, and elevate clean energy solutions and energy independence to the top of his domestic agenda, where it should have been all along.

Cross-posted from: The Dernogalizer

About Matt

I'm currently a graduate student pursuing a Masters in Public Policy with a focus in environmental policy at the University of Maryland Public Policy Program. I'm have a Bachelors of Arts in Government and Politics from of the University of Maryland College Park. I blog largely about politics relating to energy, and the environment. I'm the former Campaign Director of UMD for Clean Energy at the University of Maryland, and am still a member. My undergraduate time in college was full of climate activism including pressuring my university to commit to and finalize a climate action plan, petitioning to get the University School System of Maryland to commit to carbon neutrality by 2050, helping pass one strongest pieces of statewide global warming legislation in the country, pressuring federal leaders to pass federal climate legislation, and leading a campaign to push a green platform in our local city council elections while mobilizing students to vote in large numbers for candidates that supported it. On top of that, I'm a big political junkie. Currently, I'm the Campaign Director for Prince Georges County Council candidate Mary Lehman. During my time as an undergraduate, I wrote bi-weekly opinion columns for our college paper The Diamondback on college, statewide, and Federal issues pertaining to energy and environment. This isn't all my life though, just like err...90% of it! I'm a long distance runner, I love watching sports, I play poker etc...but there won't be much in this blog about any of that.

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