On Tuesday night, I had the honor of sitting in the House Chamber and hearing President Obama give a full-throated call for climate action in his State of the Union Address. “For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change,” he said.
He urged Congress to develop bipartisan legislation to promote clean energy and curb carbon emissions. But the president was unmistakably clear: “If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”
It was exhilarating to be in the “People’s House” and listen to the president commit to protecting Americans from the ravages of climate change. Many of the great debates of our time took place within these walls, including the deliberations that led to our bedrock environmental laws.
Yet even those esteemed lawmakers who passed the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act could not have imagined the scale of the environmental threat now before us. Unchecked climate change endangers our environment, our communities, our health, and our economy. It demands a comprehensive approach, and President Obama laid out some of the most critical elements of such an approach on Tuesday night.
As the audience applauded the president’s call to climate action, I sensed the historic significance of this moment. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the Midwestern drought, and the record breaking heat that consumed our nation, Americans of all walks of life agree we must tackle this challenge today. Now we have a president who is making the fight against climate change a central part of his second term and his legacy. With public momentum behind him, the president can make real and lasting progress.
And that progress will lead to a stronger nation. I thought it was significant that President Obama put climate action squarely within his plan for revitalizing our nation’s economy. Enhancing America’s manufacturing sector, producing energy that does not contribute to climate change, and revitalizing our infrastructure are opportunities that will lead to innovation and prosperity. This isn’t just about solving an environmental challenge; it’s about moving our country forward.
It begins with reducing dangerous carbon pollution. The best tool the president has to achieve this is the Clean Air Act. The law gives him the authority to reduce carbon emission from power plants—the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gases. NRDC has laid out a flexible, cost-effective proposal for how the Environmental Protection Agency can use the Clean Air Act to cut these emissions by 26 percent by 2020 and generate an estimated $25 billion to $60 billion in health and climate benefits by 2020.
The president also said America must dramatically expand our abundant wind and solar energy resources, cut in half the amount of energy we waste in homes and business—a proposal that generated great enthusiasm throughout the House Chamber last night—and invest in low-carbon technologies. These are proven solutions that are already delivering clean energy and putting Americans to work. Wind energy now accounts for nearly half of all new installed energy capacity and more than 150,000 Americans have jobs building clean cars that go farther on a tank of gas. And according to the bipartisan Commission on National Energy Efficiency Policy, doubling our energy efficiency over the next two decades would create 1.3 million jobs, reduce carbon pollution by one-third, and deliver more than $1,000 in annual savings for every U.S. household.
These are the building blocks of a sustainable energy future. The dirty fuels of the past have no place in that future. Producing tar sands oil, for instance, generates three times more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional crude. To honor his climate commitments and move our country down a cleaner path, President Obama must reject the Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil. We need an “all of the above” strategy to combat climate change, taking every step to reduce carbon pollution.
The American people have made it clear they want to move forward not back. Immediately after the State of the Union, Public Policy Polling conducted a survey for NRDC about the President’s remarks about climate change. Sixty-five percent of Americans think climate change is a serious or very serious problem, and 60 percent support the president using his authority to reduce dangerous carbon pollution.
More and more Americans are joining the chorus for climate action. You can add your voice by clicking here. Together, we can push for real change. A month ago I sat on the platform during the Inaugural Address and heard the president describe the urgent need to protect Americans from the ravages of climate change. Last night he confirmed his commitment. Now it’s time to put public support and concrete action behind those rousing words.