State Of the Union 2013: Environmentalists Should Be Happy

Tuesday's State of the Union address, though largely a predictable, Democratic-party-line stump speech delivered before an immense audience, included a significant discourse on energy and climate change.

It's about time, Mr. President.

Since the failure of the Waxman-Markey climate change bill a few years ago, followed by the canceled tightening of ozone regulations, and a federal court's striking down of the EPA's first attempt to address carbon dioxide pollution, the Obama administration has been largely silent on environmental issues. When he did speak about environmental issues during the campaign, it was completely couched in terms of creating manufacturing jobs, not in stopping the rise of the oceans and the increasing frequency of extreme weather.

But on Tuesday night, Obama called on Congress to “act before it's too late,” promising to use his executive authority to tackle climate change. In all, the president spent 600 words (10% of the entire speech) on the environment, calling for a number of critically important environmental initiatives:

- Executive actions to reduce pollution, mitigate the effects of climate change, and speed the transition to renewables.

- Invest further in wind and solar energy.

- Invest in natural gas technology.

- Create an Energy Security Trust to “shift our cars and trucks of oil for good.”

- Cut energy waste by buildings in half over then next 20 years.

Each of these proposals will not just slow climate change, but can create new, long-term jobs, putting the U.S. ahead of other countries in the world in the renewable energy industry. How ridiculous is it that China, the country with smog off the theoretical charts, is the world capital of solar manufacturing?

However, how quickly these initiatives take shape is yet to be seen; both the EPA and the Department of Energy are both seeking new leaders. If Senate Republicans slow the confirmation of the administrator of the EPA and the secretary of energy, it may be a long time before we see much progress on the president's energy and climate change goals. These delays are a real possibility: Sen. Rubio's official GOP response to the State of the Union, remarked that “we can't control the weather” no matter what “job-killing” laws we pass, and that Democrats only accuse Republicans of wanting dirty air and water. He also directly attacked the proposals to support renewable energy, instead favoring the opening of public lands to oil and gas drilling.

Smell that gridlock on the way? Perhaps it could do with a splash of one of Frank Bruni's brilliant political perfumes.

Nonetheless, bravo, Mr. President. Let's give these green proposals the green light.