Obama: "It begins with energy."

In his address to Congress Tuesday evening, President Barack Obama emphasized how developing clean energy and improving efficiency is essential to rescuing the economy.

By , Blogger for The Christian Science Monitor

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    President Barack Obama devoted a large part of Tuesday's addresses to energy concerns.
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In his address to Congress Tuesday evening, President Barack Obama emphasized how developing clean energy and improving efficiency is essential to rescuing the economy.

President Obama promised government investment in three areas that he called "absolutely critical to our economic future," energy, healthcare, and education.  Here's the energy part:

It begins with energy.
We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century.  And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient.  We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it.  New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.
Well, I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don’t either.  It is time for America to lead again.
Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years.  We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history – an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.
We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country.  And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.
But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy.  So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America.  And to support that innovation, we will invest 15 billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power, advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.
As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decisionmaking and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink.  We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices.  But we are committed to the goal of a retooled, reimagined auto industry that can compete and win.  Millions of jobs depend on it.  Scores of communities depend on it.  And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.
None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy.  But this is America.  We don’t do what’s easy.  We do what is necessary to move this country forward.

Later on in the speech, Obama mentioned Greensburg, Kan., which is rebuilding sustainably after a 2007 tornado reduced most of the town to rubble:

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I think about Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completely destroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community – how it can bring jobs and businesses to a place where piles of bricks and rubble once lay.  "The tragedy was terrible," said one of the men who helped them rebuild.  "But the folks here know that it also provided an incredible opportunity."

Many environmentalists agree that energy efficiency and jobs can go hand in hand. Alluding to the part of Obama's energy agenda that includes a plan to weatherize 1 million homes annually, Lane Burt, an energy policy analyst for the National Resources Defense Council, said:

Retrofitting homes is a labor-intensive endeavor. An average home retrofit takes a crew of three people about five days to complete. There are 111 million homes in this country. We can cut consumption in these homes 30 to 50 percent or $700 to $1150 annually on average. Every four crews or so needs a project manager. Every retrofit company needs accountants, executives, salesmen, and administrative staff. They need legal advice, they need office supplies, and they need to advertise. The insulation, caulk and sealants, appliances, and mechanical systems they install have to be manufactured. The money that each person saves from being wasted on energy will be spent, supporting other industries and creating more jobs. Add to this projection the 4.8 million commercial buildings in this country, representing 72 million square feet of space.

The Washington Post's editorial board worries that, with these kinds of massive investments, the president is biting off more than he can chew. In a Wednesday editorial, expresses skepticism at Obama's ambitious plans:

We understand the president's instinct not to let short-term demands obscure the need to meet the country's long-term challenges. His priorities for fundamental reform, the causes that animated his campaign, are admirable ones. Yet we cannot help wondering: Isn't the most critical task to ensure a swift and effective response to the stomach-churning downturn? Does a new, understaffed administration have the capacity to try so much so fast? And does the political system have the bandwidth to accommodate all that Mr. Obama is asking from it?

Here's Obama's whole speech:

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