State of the Union: Obama will allow nukes and offshore derricks in trade for a climate bill

Obama promoting the stimulus package in Elkhart in February. Photo: White House photo 2/9/09 by Pete Souza

White House photo 2/9/09 by Pete Souza

In his State of the Union address Wednesday night, President Obama tied prospects for a climate bill to concessions some environmentalists will find difficult to swallow: new oil derricks off of American coastlines and new nuclear power plants.

These concessions closely parallel those included in the framework for a new climate bill announced in December by Senators John Kerry (D-Mass), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Graham has been the weak link in that tri-partisan chain since passage of the health care bill, when he warned health care might cost the Democrats any Republican support for even a deeply weakened climate bill.

With Obama billing clean energy as domestic energy, and therefore as independence from foreign oil, it’s difficult for the Administration to cut nuclear energy and domestic oil production from its argument. But should those sources be developed in return for a carbon cap and trade program, burning the oil would help fund a carbon market.

The president’s remarks on climate:

Next, we need to encourage American innovation.  Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history – an investment that could lead to the world’s cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched.  And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy.  You can see the results of last year’s investment in clean energy – in the North Carolina company that will create 1200 jobs nationwide helping to make advanced batteries; or in the California business that will put 1,000 people to work making solar panels.

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives.  That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.  It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies.  And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.

I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year.  This year, I am eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate.  I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy; and I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change.  But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.  And America must be that nation.

As he did one year ago, Obama tied clean energy and other green initiatives to job creation. After saying tonight that “jobs will be our number one focus in 2010,” Obama will head to Tampa, Florida to announce the groundbreaking for a nationwide network of high-speed rail lines:

Next, we can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow. From the first railroads to the interstate highway system, our nation has always been built to compete. There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products.

Tomorrow, I’ll visit Tampa, Florida, where workers will soon break ground on a new high-speed railroad funded by the Recovery Act. There are projects like that all across this country that will create jobs and help our nation move goods, services, and information. We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities, and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy efficient, which supports clean energy jobs.

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