President Barack Obama highlighted the successes of cleantech investment – for both the economy and the environment – in his final State of the Union address on January 12. He began by acknowledging that climate change deniers are the minority, and suggesting that the economic benefits are sufficient reason to continue to pursue climate action initiatives.
“Even if the planet wasn’t at stake; even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record — until 2015 turned out even hotter — why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?” Obama asked in the address. He went on to list examples of how his clean energy initiatives have benefitted the country.
“On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal — in jobs that pay better than average."
U.S. coal use is down more than 21 percent from the peak year of 2005, while solar power output has doubled over the previous year for the past four years running. Even banks such as Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs have committed to stop or scale back their support for coal projects. Goldman Sachs went so far as to pledge $150 billion in clean energy investment by 2025.
“Meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly sixty percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth,” he added.
Obama also suggested that there would be more support given to States that are reliant on fossil fuels, and that support would be reduced for the coal and oil industries, saying, “Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy. Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future — especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels. That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. That way, we put money back into those communities and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.”
Perhaps as a demonstration of this reaffirmed commitment to climate action, the President announced on January 16 that he would be temporarily suspending most coal mining on public lands. The executive order is expected to affect all new coal mining except for metallurgical coal (used in steel production) and most existing leases for future land use. It does not affect current coal mining activities, which are expected to sustain production levels for over a decade. Rather, the moratorium is expected to last three years during which time the Department of the Interior will review coal operations on federal lands “to ensure American taxpayers are earning a fair return for the use of their public resources.”
“Given serious concerns raised about the federal coal program, we’re taking the prudent step to hit pause on approving significant new leases so that decisions about those leases can benefit from the recommendations that come out of the review,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “During this time, companies can continue production activities on the large reserves of recoverable coal they have under lease, and we’ll make accommodations in the event of emergency circumstances to ensure this pause will have no material impact on the nation’s ability to meet its power generation needs.”
At the same time, the President was not naïve in his State of the Union address. He acknowledged the challenge ahead in achieving further climate progress, saying, “None of this will happen overnight, and yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo. But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, and the planet we’ll preserve — that’s the kind of future our kids and grandkids deserve.”