January 24, 2012

On the State of the Union Address

President Obama will deliver his third State of the Union
Address tonight. With the focus on the economy and jobs creation, we’re not
likely to hear much from the president on the need for the United States to get
serious about the Arctic or for Congress to ratify the Law of the Sea Convention.
But there are some issues I think the president has an opportunity to address, and
I expect we’ll hear much from him tonight on his vision for a clean energy
future as it relates to economic security.  

In particular, I think President Obama has an opportunity to
make the case for doubling down on clean energy investments, despite recent criticisms
of the administration’s handling of Solyndra. President Obama has many success
cases to point to in making the case for why these investments are good for the
U.S. economy and long-term prosperity. For example, last year the
administration announced that the Departments of Agriculture, Energy and Navy
would match up to $510 million dollars in private sector investments in
renewable biofuel projects. This initiative has already helped develop a larger
market for alternative fuels and infused confidence in investors.

I don’t believe the president should have much trouble
explaining why investing in alternative fuels and renewable energy projects are
good for the United States. Most Americans have fresh memories of $5 a gallon
gasoline and the toll it took on the U.S. economy in 2008. Moreover, there’s a
larger vision that can be achieved through investments in renewable energy and
non-petroleum fuels, and the president should press this message: that these government investments
will help spur continued private sector investments in alternative liquid
fuels, help move the United States away from its outsized dependence on
petroleum and provide the foundation for a more resilient economy. Indeed, this
is especially important at a time when ratcheting tensions in the Persian Gulf
and instability in Nigeria are generating some uncertainty in the global oil
market - and the United States certainly cannot endure another shock to the global oil market.
The faster we move away from petroleum dependence, the more resilient our
economy will be.

As always, I think the president should make the clear
connection between clean energy investments and U.S. efforts to curb greenhouse
gas emissions and mitigate climate change. After all, these issues are two
sides of the same coin. However, I suspect that climate change won’t get nearly
as much attention tonight – regrettably it’s still a polarizing issue. Who
knows though? I’m looking to be surprised.