US: Obama equates investment in energy to 1960s-era space race

"Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race," he stated, adding, "Today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy."

Delivering a State of the Union Address that was relentlessly ambitious, globally competitive, and pragmatically optimistic, the President frequently urged Congress to search for bipartisan solutions and send bills to his desk for signature.

Clean energy push

He commended the progress the nation had made during his first four years on the job, but asked for more. "Four years ago," Obama recalled, "other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. And we’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year – let’s drive down costs even further. As long as countries like China keep going all in on clean energy, so must we."

He also did not mince words. "For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change," he stated, laying down the gauntlet to the Senate and House to find a way, or he would. "If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will," said Obama. "I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy."

Recognizing that the states must also bear responsibility for progress, the President issued new goal for America: "Let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years. We’ll work with the states to do it. Those states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make that happen."

And he promised assistance to the municipalities that need it most. "Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio. A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.

"There’s no reason this can’t happen in other towns," Obama remarked, announcing the immediate launch of three more manufacturing hubs "where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs."

As a follow-up, he asked Congress to help create a total network of 15 hubs, so that America can "guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is made right here," and made a number of other proposals that would support a new technological workforce and repair the nation’s legacy infrastructure, among them:

  • Attracting foreign companies to U.S. shores with high-speed rail and Internet; high-tech schools, and self-healing power grids;
  • Rewarding high schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math;
  • Ensuring that high school students graduate with the equivalent of a technical degree, much as Germany has done; and
  • Proposing to use some of America’s oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology.

Finally, the President announced two new trade accords that promise to stimulate national economies, East and West. "To boost American exports, support American jobs and level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia, we intend to complete negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership," he stated, adding, "And tonight, I’m announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union – because trade that is fair and free across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs."

Solar industry reaction

Industry reaction to the speech was immediate and appreciative. Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Washington, DC-based Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), commented, "We are especially encouraged by the President’s commitment to securing America’s place as a leader in clean energy innovation throughout the world.

"President Obama understands that the stakes are high and we must not fall behind other nations as the world shifts to emissions-free clean energy technologies like solar. We thank President Obama for his leadership and look forward to continuing to work with Congress and the White House to make solar an increasingly-important component of the nation’s energy portfolio."

Ralph Avallone, president of the National Green Energy Council, an educational and advocacy group, also based in the nation’s capital, took issue only with Obama’s continuing support of fossil fuels and nuclear power under the Administration’s "all-of-the-above policy."

Avallone protested, "Mr. President, please end the nuclear and oil subsidies and pour that money into funding utility scale renewable energy projects on and off U.S. military installations. Let us use that money to fund new green technology manufacturing plants and finally let us use that money to fund scholarship programs to educate the unemployed, returning servicemen and women, and our college students in the research, energy and engineering fields so that once again the world can look toward the innovation, integrity and brilliance of the United States of America."

Steven Nadel, president of the Washington, DC-based American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), commended the President on his energy efficiency challenge to the states. He said, "By supporting energy efficiency, the President has made a smart investment that will pay off immediately and down the line for future generations. There’s a good reason why energy efficiency has broad support among business and legislators across the aisle, it’s one of the great cost saving success stories for the nation in the last three decades and still has large untapped potential."

In a public poll taken just after the speech ended, the majority of Americans approved of what was proposed. Fifty-three percent of speech watchers questioned in the poll had a very positive reaction, with 24% saying they had a somewhat positive response, and 22% saying they had a negative response. But the CNN/ORC International survey also indicated that less than four in ten think the speech will lead to more bipartisan cooperation.