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Obama vows to push renewables, climate change legislation in second term

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Fresh off political wins against Congressional Republicans on the budget and debt ceiling, President Barack Obama opened his second term with a vow to make the US a global leader on climate change policy and to continue his efforts to foster the proliferation of renewable energy.
Obama vows to push renewables, climate change legislation in second term

"We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity," the president said from a lectern erected outside the U.S. Capitol Building. "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.

"Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms," he added.

A paragraph later in his second inaugural address, the president acknowledged "The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult."

But he went on to say that America cannot resist this transition, "we must lead it."

"We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise," he continued. "That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure -- our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared."

Later, the White House released a statement saying the administration plans to focus to modernize more than 75 percent of federal buildings over the next four years to enhance their efficiency and thereby reduce energy consumption by the government.

The administration also plans to roll out a series of initiatives intended to inspire Americans to improve the energy efficiency of their homes and workplaces.

Given the temper of Washington over the past four years, these goals, while lofty, are likely to be hard to achieve, according to government watchers.

According to these folks, they expect climate activists to push for a number of concrete -- and in some quarters, controversial -- actions to be taken, preferably before the year is out.

These include killing the Keystone XL pipeline, a project extending from Canada to Texas, that has strong support from the oil and gas industry and their advocates in the US House and Senate.

They're also likely to push for an expansion of incentives for wind, solar, geothermal and other renewables -- a goal that once seemed pie-in-the-sky after the political fallout from the Solyndra bankruptcy.

And then there's the even larger goal of the administration establishing a White House energy council, a working group that would be similar in conception to the White House Council of Economic Advisors.

That plan has the support of John Podesta, the former White House Chief of Staff under President Bill Clinton and long time Obama ally, as well as a coalition of environmental and clean energy activists and several former members of Congress.

If that wish list seems long -- and we haven't even mentioned the widely anticipated effort to get the president to endorse tough new EPA regulations on coal-burning power plants -- the administration over the past few days has done its best to stoke such ambitions.

On Sunday night, hours before the president's inaugural, Vice President Biden dropped by the Green Inaugural Ball to reassure the environmentalists that climate change, energy efficiency and the furthering of their renewable energy goals will be a top priority during Obama's second term.

“I’ll tell you what my green dream is: that we finally face up to climate change,” Biden said.

He added, “I don’t intend on ending this four years without getting an awful lot more done.”

As he moved toward the door and a waiting limousine -- fast entrances and exits are the norm during the two days of balls and swank events that accompany any inauguration -- Biden stopped to give the crowd one more reason to cheer: "Keep the faith," he said.

After the president's address, Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director, said his organization was heartened by Obama’s remarks.

"Indeed, in America, our possibilities are limitless, and the Sierra Club’s 2.1 million members and supporters urge the president to cement our nation’s position as the global clean energy leader by going all in on sustainable energy, holding polluters accountable, and rejecting the dangerous tar sands pipeline," Brune said. "We will work tirelessly to ensure the transition to safe, clean energy sources to fight the most pressing challenge of our time.”

On a related note on Tuesday, and before the folding chairs and other remnants of the inauguration had been removed, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer introduced a bill intended to improve energy efficiency in federal buildings.

“There doesn’t have to be ‘a bill’ on climate,” Boxer told reporters. “There are going to be many approaches.”

The bill would require the General Services Administration to conduct energy audits of buildings owned by the agency to identify ways to improve efficiency, reduce costs and pay for themselves within 10 years as well as calculate costs that could be saved.

The GSA would then be required to report to Congress and the public within a year on the energy and cost savings tied to improving efficiency and set minimum energy-intensity and lighting-efficiency standards for all building leases entered into by the federal government. GSA would also be required to detail energy and water-efficiency information in the leases it submits to Congress for approval.

Boxer said she will also soon introduce a bill to use the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program as a model in setting up a program to fund projects in local communities to improve energy efficiency, toughen public works to respond to disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the New York metropolitan area last year.

For additional information:

Inaugural Address by President Barack Obama

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