President Obama emphasizes climate legacy in SOTU, but will he earn it?

SACE staffer Sarah Gilliam contributed to this blogpost.

Last night, President Obama delivered his final State of the Union address, which strongly emphasized the role he hopes that having acted on climate change and spurring the clean energy economy will play in his legacy.

Worth clapping for

Among the top four priorities he articulated was to emphasize “the spirit of innovation,” focusing this section of his speech on the need for the United States to lead the world in implementing innovative solutions to climate change. While pointing out the great leaps and bounds by which solar and wind energy capacity has grown during his time in office, Obama called for an even greater spur in investment in clean energy that he likened to a modern day space race. He pointed out that when the United States learned that Sputnik had been launched by the Soviet Union and that they were outcompeting us in the space race, our national response was not to deny the science of aerospace engineering, but rather to bolster the budgets of our research institutions so that we were walking on the moon 12 years later.

Obama also hit on the immense business opportunity presented by the transition to a low-carbon economy. “Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future,” he said, also asking, “Why would we want to pass up the opportunity to let American businesses produce and sell the energy of the future?”

Between the President’s Climate Action Plan, the Clean Power Plan, and the international progress made just last month in the landmark Paris climate agreement, President Obama has shown tremendous leadership in the realm of climate action and clean energy during his years in office. We applaud the leadership he has shown to date; however, if Obama is serious about making climate a legacy of his administration, as he indicated in his State of the Union address last night, he must still successfully confront a few serious challenges in his final year in office.

Worth remaining seated out of concern

The Obama State Department recently canceled lease sales for offshore oil and gas development in the Arctic, but the Administration is still pushing forward on opening the Atlantic coastline –from Virginia to Georgia– to offshore drilling, where there has never been commercial production of offshore oil & gas ever. Obama’s support for opening the Atlantic coastline up to offshore drilling has been met with fierce grassroots opposition by a diverse set of Americans, concerned about the high risks of this dirty energy source.

SACE is also concerned about Obama’s recent nod to increasing subsidies for nuclear power, despite the industry being rocked by several early closures of nuclear plants and major delays and cost overruns at all of the under-construction nuclear projects here in the U.S. See more on the nuclear boondoggles happening at each of these facilities in the Southeast: TVA’s Watts Bar 2 in Tennessee, Southern Company’s Vogtle 3 & 4 in Georgia and SCANA’s V.C. Summer 2 & 3 in South Carolina.

Overall the Obama administration has shown great leadership to combat climate change, but to really seal the deal on his “climate legacy,” we (along with our allies) will continue to pressure his administration to steer our country away from all sources of dirty, costly and risky energy — including offshore drilling along our treasured coasts and costly, resource-intensive nuclear power in the Southeast.

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