Expectations low for significant focus on renewable energy in Obama State of the Union Address tonight

According to White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address tonight will be “the beginning of a new conversation” between the administration and the American people, but as the hour of the annual speech before both houses of Congress in the US approaches, few are expecting any significant pronouncements when it comes to renewable energy.
Expectations low for significant focus on renewable energy in Obama State of the Union Address tonight

President Obama will deliver his State of the Union at 9 pm Eastern Time (2 am GMT) tonight in the chamber of the US House of Representatives. While the text of the speech has not yet been released, administration officials expect the president to focus on American competitiveness, preserving healthcare reforms passed last year, taxes – particularly business taxes -- and how the president plans to reduce the nation’s current $1.42 trillion budget deficit.

Most analysts this morning do expect at least a mention of a renewable energy standard and some focus on the further development of non-fossil transportation fuels, but expect those other issues to take precedence tonight.

On 21 January, the US Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of 15 percent-blend ethanol for cars and trucks produced in the year 2001 and later. The decision expanded upon an October EPA decision which increased ethanol blends with unleaded gasoline from 10 to 15 percent.

The E15 decision was supposed to be made by mid-2010 but was delayed several times for more testing as automobile and small engine manufacturers raised various concerns and objections. Several lawsuits, including one by the automobile industry, already have been filed to block the EPA’s earlier decision.

According to that lawsuit, led by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, and the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, the decision violates the Clean Air Act because the EPA does not have the power to “approve applications for new fuels and fuel additives” for some vehicles and not others.

Obama is expected to explain the decision is part of a strategy to reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels. Analysts also believe he’ll touch on the subject of increased production of natural gas, bio-fuels and electric vehicles, all of which have received bipartisan congressional support.

But a piece by columnist Amy Lee in today’s Huffington Post captures the prevailing mood of the renewable energy sector in the US as Obama prepares for the address: despite a well-documented rhetorical commitment to clean energy, the president’s follow-up on a clean energy agenda, both in early-stage innovation and in large-scale deployment, “has been seriously hampered by the administration's inability to pass the legislation necessary to facilitate a thriving clean energy future.”

Going back to his days as a presidential aspirant, Obama has vowed to transform the landscape of the energy economy, weaning America off its foreign oil dependence and shifting to renewable sources over the next ten years.

As Lee notes in the Huffington Post, “he has repeatedly promised to devote $15 billion dollars in clean energy investment each year, as well as announcing his intention to pass sweeping energy reform legislation to reduce greenhouse emissions”.

So far, however, much of that agenda has failed to take off. An energy bill that did make it to the Senate last summer withered on the vine before it finally died.

In the same piece, Lee quotes Mark Muro, an energy expert at the Brookings Institution, a think-tank in Washington, DC as saying he expects to hear “very powerful rhetorical arguments” in favour of renewable energy in the State of the Union, “but meanwhile, the budget realities don't seem very promising. There are simply areas where we have done too little, and we need to invest much more."

Muro added, “there's no way around the fact that we're going to need some revenue”.

For additional information:

The Huffington Post


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