This year's State of the Union address will be given by President Barack Obama this evening The speech represents the only time the President speaks to Congress in a joint session. As a result, it has become an influential annual benchmark for Americans.
This year's address is particularly important for President Obama as he has not only moved into an election year, but also his opponents seem to be eroding his political capital. Chief among the priorities of voters, and the grievances of Republicans, is the state of the economy.
A large piece of economy discourse revolves around energy. An iconic industry, the energy sector represents the driver of the current economy--hence the prevalence of "energy security" in words of elected representatives across the land.
The situation is simple: the United States is the second largest consumer of energy on the planet; roughly 80% of that consumption comes from fossil fuels, with petroleum representing 35% of total energy consumption. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2010 the United States only produced enough oil to meet 32% of its petroleum resources.
Importing such a valuable resource poses a lot of risk, especially when the majority of that precious liquid resides in the Middle East, a region of the world that has posed significant geopolitical problems for the U.S.
There are two prevailing views regarding the energy security problem. One, produce more energy at home; two, import energy resources from more secure allies. The first view has generated a massive schism in opinion between America's political parties.
Republicans view the key to answering the energy security problem by expanding the country's ability to produce fossil fuels--deepwater offshore oil drilling, unconventional natural gas recovery, removing mountain tops for coal mining. Developing renewable sources is a part of the story, but a secondary priority.
On the other hand, President Obama took office with a plan to shift America's economy into the 21st Century. Initially, the crux of this plan lay in securing the Union's future by creating policy to address anthropogenic global warming. Instituting new energy policy, in the administration's eyes, would not only help solve an impending global crisis, but also would stimulate the economy and set it up for sustainable growth in the future by becoming the leader in new energy technology development.
Across the globe, energy demand is growing exponentially. Likewise, so is the desire to produce that energy at home and with a lower carbon footprint than current resources. A country that can establish technological leadership in the new energy industry will have a significant competitive advantage in the global economy. This idea has not been lost on China.
Within two years of his presidency, Obama dropped climate change from his agenda. Now, on the night where he might be giving his most difficult State of the Union address, Obama finds himself standing on the ledge--will he hold on to his cleantech agenda or will he lay it aside?
The President has come under fire from Republicans and even some of his own party for his decision to deny the massive Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from Alberta's tar sands to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. Republicans have taken the issue and framed it as another example of the President's inability to make good decisions for Americans. They have labeled the decision as a "job killer."
A contentious issue, there are many factors in play with regard to the pipeline, however, it does represent a symbol of President Obama's vision of the new energy economy. This vision has come into increasing scrutiny through decisions like Keystone XL and failures such as the bankruptcy of solar manufacturer Solyndra.
The president will surely address energy and the economy tonight. He has always stated fossil fuels will play a role for the short-term. However, tonight's address will really highlight the President's current position on energy -- does he still hold the same vision or has it dissolved as result of three years of politicking?
Image credit: Pete Souza, Official White House photographer
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