Tuesday, February 24, 2009

It Begins With Energy

President Obama February 25, 2009President Obama addressed the country before a joint session of Congress tonight. It was not technically a State of the Union address, which was just as well, as it relieved Obama from the unpleasant chore of finding an suitably precipitous adjective too replace that used in the shopworn bromide, "The state of our Union is strong." Instead he said that

[The] day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.
It was, even by his standards, an excellent speech. He deftly balanced alarm at where we are as a nation, conveyed the urgency of taking bold action, drew on relevant history and quietly reassured that American determination gives us confidence of prevailing.

Read the whole thing. Excerpts on energy:

The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before.
Yes, but will we have the will to finally act? Can Obama bring the country and the Congress with him on this?

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 fifteen 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 decision-making 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 re-tooled, re-imagined 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.

I don't buy into the fiction of clean coal, but otherwise this is a no-nonsense call to bold, direct, specific action. It's true leadership into the face of difficulty and the teeth of adversity. It's a refreshing and much needed change, and a stark contrast to everything the GOP has said and continues to say.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal gave the Republican response. He attempted to use his personal story, a folksy delivery and a selective recounting of how he was doing things better in his state to reiterate core Republican concepts of less spending, more tax cuts, and limited government. Not only is the message completely out of step with the times and the mood of the country, but his presentation came across as mawkish, stilted, even canned, as if he had recorded it earlier in the day. He didn't really respond to what Obama said at all. On energy all he had to say was:

To strengthen our economy, we need urgent action to keep energy prices down. All of us remember what it felt like to pay $4 at the pump. And unless we act now, those prices will return.

To stop that from happening, we need to increase conservation, increase energy efficiency, increase the use of alternative and renewable fuels, increase our use of nuclear power, and increase drilling for oil and gas here at home.

We believe that Americans can do anything. And if we unleash the innovative spirit of our citizens, we can achieve energy independence.

The idea that we can somehow prevent gas prices from going back up is astonishingly naive. He is either woefully ignorant of the price drivers or is shamelessly pandering to his political base. Prices are low now, temporarily, because of the enormous demand destruction attending our cratering financial situation. They will stay low only in a global deflationary environment.

Increasing conservation and efficiency are excellent ideas; Jindal should focus on convincing his own party to support concrete measures to do so. "Alternative and renewable fuels"? That could mean anything from algae, possibly useful but years away to ethanol, a boondoggle that cause way more harm than help. Nuclear power? There are so many reasons why nuclear is not the answer. Lastly, there's the that old favorite, more drilling, which is a false hope.

Missing entirely from Jindal's retreads is any mention of renewable energy. No wind. No solar. No hydrokinetic generation of any kind. Only the vague "unleash the innovative spirit", a hollow piece of flattery that he probably imagines would occur through the magic of more tax cuts, which is not what we need.

The Republican idea that Jindal is a rising star and potential 2012 nominee shows both the party's intellectual bankruptcy and how frighteningly clueless they are about the deepest existential crisis the country has experienced in a generation--maybe ever--a crisis created by the same discredited policies they blithely suggest we continue.

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