"This is our generation's Sputnik moment." The massaging was clear -- it is time for the United States to take the unquestioned lead in the race to own the new energy economy.
From the outset of President Obama's State of the Union address, clean energy was a distinct priority. Knowing he has yet to convince enough of his fellow colleagues, industry and business leaders, and American citizens of importance of this priority, he wasted no expense connecting clean energy to the American identity.
"None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be, or where the new jobs will come from. What we can do -- what America does better than anyone -- is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn't just change our lives. It's how we make a living."
By stimulating America's inventive nature around the development of clean technologies the President says new jobs will be created, industry will be spurred, and the American economy will continue to be the beacon others follow.
To this end, the President pledged to have 80% of American electricity come from clean sources by 2035. He also outlined the goal of providing 80% of Americans with access to high-speed rail in the next 25 years. This will be an immense endeavor and one his administration proposes to partially fund with federal subsidies currently given to the oil industry.
"We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I'm asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don't know if you noticed, but they're doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday's energy, let's invest in tomorrow's."
The President's intentions are clear, as they have always been -- it is time to transform the energy industry. However, the prevailing questions continue to be: how will it be done and what will it look like?
Currently, there is no federal energy bill mandating production of renewable energy and clean technologies. Such legislation is crucial for sustained sector development. Given that the administration failed to pass new energy policy when it had a majority in both houses, how does it propose progress on clean technologies now that the Republicans own the House of Representatives and appear to have little interest in passing new energy policy or subsidizing cleantech industries?
Additionally, what will America's clean energy future look like, exactly? In his address, the President included controversial energy technologies such as natural gas, nuclear power, and carbon capture and storage under the "clean" umbrella. These controversial technologies are viewed by many to pose significant risks to the environment. How large a piece of Obama's clean energy future they will have has yet to be articulated.
The emphasis on clean energy in the President's speech last night shows the Obama administration is not only abundantly aware of the energy revolution that has commenced, but also that it represents the future of the global economy. What remains unclear is the strategy and technologies the President will use to galvanize the country toward embracing its new Sputnik moment.
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