The State of the Union: What to Watch For

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kelly Trout
Email: ktrout@foe.org
Phone: 202-222-0722

The State of the Union: What to Watch For

WASHINGTON - President Obama will deliver the State of the Union address to
Congress on Tuesday, January 25. The speech will provide important
indications about the President’s priorities for the next year, and
should signal to environmentalists the extent to which he plans to stand
up to corporate polluter lobbyists and support a pro-environment agenda.

Here’s Friends of the Earth’s view of what the President should say about energy and the environment, and what he shouldn’t say.

What President Obama SHOULD DO in his speech:

1)        Commit to protecting the Clean Air Act and vetoing any rollbacks

The Clean Air Act is a landmark law that has cut air pollution, reduced
asthma and lung disease, and saved lives. In 2007, the Supreme Court
confirmed that the Clean Air Act’s protections apply to the pollution
that is causing climate change, and as a result the Environmental
Protection Agency has begun implementing the Clean Air Act with modest
measures to reduce climate pollution. Unfortunately, corporate special
interests that would rather be able to pollute freely, with no
constraints, are now backing legislative attempts to roll back the Clean
Air Act’s protections. Such rollbacks would be disastrous. President
Obama should make it clear he will use all of the tools at his disposal
to stop them.

2)        Rededicate himself to cutting fossil fuel subsidies

Fossil fuels are inherently dirty, but unfortunately, while fossil fuel
industries like Big Oil and King Coal have multibillion dollar profits,
Congress continues to award them massive subsidies. President Obama has
pledged to end fossil fuel subsidies, but so far, Congress has been
unwilling to make necessary cuts. Given that many of the newly elected
members of Congress promised during their campaigns to cut deficit
spending, they should be amenable to eliminating these subsidies, as
doing so would reduce the deficit. Friends of the Earth and allies have
identified $200 billion in environmentally harmful spending that can be
cut from the budget in our Green Scissors report (http://www.greenscissors.com/). President Obama should pledge to spend political capital to eliminate these subsidies.

3)        Speak out about the serious threats posed by climate change -- and real solutions

Last year was the hottest year ever recorded, and climate-related
extreme weather events harmed people around the world. Scientists agree
that the impacts of climate change will become much more severe if we do
not rapidly reduce pollution. Unfortunately, right-wing,
polluter-backed misinformation campaigns have confused much of the
public about the state of the science. President Obama should use the
bully pulpit of the presidency to call Americans’ attention to this
challenge and the fact that while time is running out, solutions are
still attainable.

4)        Explain that government regulation is often a good thing

Effective regulations are essential to the strength of our economy and
the well being of the public. However, corporate special interests
seeking to enrich themselves have tried to make “regulation” a dirty
word. This isn’t an abstract debate. We’ve seen in the past what happens
without sufficient regulation: kids die when they eat contaminated
food, rivers catch on fire, giant oil spills take human life and destroy
ecosystems, corporations discriminate against and mistreat their
employees, and financial institutions engage in behavior so risky that
it crashes the economy. The truth is that in order for markets and
society to function, we need regulations. President Obama should make
this point.

5)        Call for a transportation bill that reduces vehicle miles travelled

Americans are boxed in by a built environment that requires cars for
all manner of trips, resulting in worsening health, lost productivity
and leisure time, and unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions.  Our
outdated federal transportation policy has resulted in yearly increases
in what the Center for Clean Air Policy has dubbed “empty miles,” miles
driven by cars that serve as a drag on household budgets and the wider
American economy. The upcoming debate about the federal surface
transportation bill is the perfect opportunity to reduce miles traveled
by personal vehicles and to reconfigure the built environment by
bringing origins and destinations closer together.  President Obama
should urge Congress to promote healthier bodies, healthier pocketbooks,
and a healthier planet by reducing vehicle miles travelled. He should
call for investments in rail, public transit, walkable and bikeable
communities and other smart transportation options.

6)        Defend federal agencies from congressional assault

Members of the 112th Congress have threatened to drive
federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to a grinding halt with
weekly or even daily hearings questioning their authority to regulate
everything from greenhouse gases to oil spills to genetically engineered
fish.  President Obama should strongly defend these agencies, and their
policies and regulations -- both existing and proposed, from any attack
on their authority and ability to protect our environment and public
health from harm.

What President Obama SHOULD AVOID:

1)        Calling dirty things clean -- like the so-called ‘Clean Electricity Standard’

In last year’s State of the Union address, President Obama shocked
environmentalists by calling dirty energy sources such as offshore
drilling, nuclear reactors, biofuels and coal “clean.” This year, there
is a danger that he will endorse what is misleadingly called a “Clean
Electricity Standard” -- an energy production mandate that would include
many or all of these dirty energy sources. (See the letter Friends of the Earth and allies sent to Obama urging him to avoid endorsing a dirty Clean Electricity Standard.
[pdf]) A far better approach would be to call for a “Renewable
Electricity Standard” that requires the U.S. to ramp up energy use from
truly clean sources, such as wind, solar and geothermal. We want
President Obama to talk about clean energy, but only if he uses the term
accurately.

2)        Pretending half measures are real solutions to climate change

The enormity of the climate crisis requires radical changes to the ways
we produce and consume energy. We can make these changes while making
our society more livable and prosperous, but we can’t fool ourselves
into thinking that small changes at the margins will be adequate to
solve the problem. We welcome any steps that President Obama takes to
reduce emissions, but he should frame limited emissions reductions as
first steps in the right direction, rather than actions that will
accomplish all that is needed.

3)        Promoting new free trade agreements that will harm workers and the environment

President Obama promised during his campaign to step back from his
predecessors’ policy of promoting trade agreements that were great for
wealthy multinational corporations but that harmed workers and the
environment. Unfortunately, the Obama administration recently announced
it supports a NAFTA-style trade agreement with South Korea. President
Obama should adhere to his campaign pledge and stop promoting bad trade
deals. He should not push for the passage of any bad trade agreements in
his speech.

4)        Offering to turn the White House over to corporate lobbyists

President Obama won office thanks in large part to his message of
change, particularly his pledge that he would change the way Washington
works and limit the influence of corporate lobbyists. But his recent
selections of William Daley (seen as a close friend of business
interests) as his new chief of staff and GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt as the
head of his council on jobs and economic competitiveness may indicate
that the President is backing away from his commitment to stand up to
corporate special interests. President Obama should make clear in his
speech that he will use the presidency to fight for policies that are in
the public interest -- to stand up for the common good -- and that he
will not give special access to or begin caving more to the demands of
corporate special interests. The government is already far too
subservient to giant corporations; the President must not announce that
he plans to grant them even more influence.

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Friends of the Earth is the U.S. voice of the world's largest grassroots environmental network, with member groups in 77 countries. Since 1969, Friends of the Earth has fought to create a more healthy, just world.

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