Obama Calls for More Clean Energy and Smart Safeguards on Domestic Drilling

President Obama confirmed his commitment to clean energy and to environmental and public health protections in his State of the Union Address last night. He celebrated the extraordinary growth of the clean energy economy, and he laid out a plan to create more clean energy jobs and more responsible energy development.

“We don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy,” the president said. 

We know the president is correct because clean, low-pollution energy is already putting hundreds of thousands of Americans to work.  More than 100,000 people currently work in the solar industry, according to the National Solar Jobs Census. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the wind industry employs 85,000 Americans. And more than 150,000 Americans currently have jobs making parts for and assembling clean cars—hybrids, electric cars, and other advanced vehicles that hardly existed 10 years ago.

American innovators could achieve far more with the right incentives and market signals in place. Last night, the president said the time has come to create those.

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 these jobs.

NRDC has been fighting to extend these clean energy tax credits, and we welcome the president’s support. We’ve also been calling on Congress to pass a clean energy standard with a laser focus on wind, solar, and other renewable power sources and create incentives for energy efficiency. We were pleased that last night the president once again backed measures to promote the use of clean energy and efficiency.

And fortunately the Obama Administration is not waiting on Congress to take action. In last night’s speech, the president singled out the Department of Defense’s commitment to sustainable energy sources. NRDC has been in active partner in helping the DOD make this shift to cleaner fuels, and we applaud its ambitious goals. The Navy and the Marine Corps, for instance, plan to reduce fossil energy use by 50 percent by 2020 and cut the petroleum used in their non-tactical fleet by 50 percent by 2015. The Air Force plans to use alternative fuels for 50 percent of its domestic aviation needs by 2016.

The president already recognized the need for safe and clean sources of energy when he rejected the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. In last night’s speech, President Obama wisely took aim at Republican efforts to try to weigh down the bill extending the payroll tax break with language mandating approval of the pipeline.

Yet even as the president promoted clean energy development, he also called for an increase in domestic drilling. We all want American energy independence, but we have to do it right. President Obama recognized the need for stronger safety standards in last night’s speech: “I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use.  America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”

That’s a good start, but much more needs to be done to protect our communities and our environment. We need to hold the industry to safety standards, set sensitive places off limits, and keep contaminants out of our air and water. Only government safeguards can achieve those protections. Industry has already proven that it will not police itself.

The president underscored the value of smart safeguards: “I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago.  I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury pollution, or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean.”

Like clean energy solutions, public health and environmental standards create jobs at the same time they protect our families from polluters. According to a study done by the Institute of Clean Air Companies, implementing just one set of standards—CAIR Phase I—since 2003 has created an estimated 200,000 jobs in the air pollution control industry. The number of Americans working as boilermakers grew by 35 percent between 1999 and 2001 because of updates in Clean Air Act standards. Taken together, the environmental technology sector has generated more than 1.7 million American jobs as of 2008.

And those are just some of the economic rewards of cleaning up pollution. Clean air safeguards generated approximately $1.3 trillion in public health and environmental benefits in 2010 alone for a cost of $50 billion. The ratio of benefits to costs is more than 26 to 1.

These enormous gains prove that economic growth and smart safeguards go hand-in-hand. Working together, President Obama and Congress can help move America toward a cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous future