Addressing the nation last night, President Barack Obama did not leave clean energy to the wayside, as some feared  he might. Instead, he took energy policy head-on, making it a core principle of his "Blueprint for an America Built to Last ."
For those who view the President as an environmental compromiser, unwilling to be the leader on climate change the world so desperately needs, last night's words surely rung hallow.
After all, the President did say he would direct his administration to open up more than 75% of America's potential offshore oil and gas resources. He also said his administration would take every step to develop its world-leading shale gas resources.
Both of these energy resources not only continue to pump greenhouse gases  into the atmosphere, but they also pose other environmental and public health problems, such as drinking water contamination and large-scale oil spills . And, even though the president said his administration would hold the oil and gas industry accountable so the resources are procured safely, these industries have largely operated outside of reprimand  for a century.
There is also the concern  that developing America's vast natural gas resources will hurt renewable energy development, as clean energy technologies will not be able to compete on the market--their cost will be too high.
These concerns are more than legitimate and symbolize just how far U.S. energy policy has to move in order to be both secure and also sustainable.
The need to make progress in the energy conversation is not lost on President Obama, and his willingness to confront the issue may have been the most striking aspect of his State of the Union address.
"I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy. I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here. We have subsidized oil companies for a century. That's long enough. It's time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that's rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that's never been more promising. Pass clean energy tax credits and create jobs."
Obama was emphatic in his plea for the legislature to pass clean energy mandates. His words were not empty, he took responsibility for his failed investment in Solyndra, saying some technologies don't work and some companies fail. He also recognized the deep political divide climate change has become. Nevertheless, he implored his colleagues to not let these issues prevent capturing the economic bounty that clean energy represents.
Once again, the President offered to take the first action--he's directing his administration to open up enough public land to develop renewable energy projects which can power 3 million homes. Additionally, he proposed the government create business incentives for manufacturers to become more energy efficient.
It appears developing clean energy resources is exactly what Americans want. During the State of the Union speech, a focus group of 50 swing voters  were tasked with recording their reactions to the president's words. The group included Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. According to the responses, only Obama's mention of the death of Osama bin Laden drew more positive marks than his call for clean energy development.
The benefits of developing new, non-fossil fuel energy resources are clear to see. Likewise, fossil fuels remain available and represent comfort and stability -- they're the source which powered the United States to its dominance. So, after President Obama's address, the question still remains: who will have the leadership to step out of the easiness of the past and into the challenge of the now?
Image credit: Pete Souza, Official White House Photo