Just when clean energy policy appeared to have fallen to the bottom of the national agenda, President Obama gave it renewed political life in his State of the Union Address. Obama called for investment in the "Apollo Projects of our time," to be funded by eliminating "the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies."
"Instead of subsidizing yesterday's energy," Obama told Congress, let's invest in tomorrow's" and thereby reinvent ourselves.
Obama's once-ambitious green agenda (and campaign promise to enact comprehensive legislation to reduce the country's dependence on fossil fuels) was labeled dead in the water after the Republican takeover of Congress. The President's apparent retreat on this issue was further evidenced by the recent announcement that Obama's energy and climate adviser, Carol Browner, will leave the administration.
Yet President Obama bucked conventional wisdom Tuesday night. The centerpiece of his State of the Union message was his pronouncement that this is "our generation's Sputnik moment," in which the country could surpass its economic rivals through American innovation.
"We'll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology," the President said. These broad strokes suggested a stepped-up commitment to renewable energy, but Obama was also short on specifics. Perhaps owing to the lack of concrete policy details, some commentators claimed climate change was omitted from the speech.
Can the political will to tackle climate change be rekindled? If the Tea Party-backed reponse to Obama's speech by Rep. Michele Bachmann was any indication, it will be an uphill battle. She mocked the administration as a "bureaucracy that tells us which light bulbs to buy.”
If you missed it, Obama's "Sputnik moment" is delivered 13 minutes, 4 seconds into the President's speech: