Government»Obama addresses energy reform critics
»Monday, June 29,2009
He Used the high visibility of a White House press conference to take on widespread concerns about the costs of moving to cleaner sources of energy.
The intervention from Obama comes on the eve of a high stakes vote in Congress on a climate change bill. Democrats in Congress have called on Obama to make a personal appeal for the bill which is on a high stakes course this week.
The Democratic House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has taken a gamble on moving up the date for a vote on the bill to Friday - despite near total resistance to the reform package from Republicans and strong opposition from farm state Democrats.
The presidential intervention crowns a carefully coordinated effort by the White House, administration officials, environmental organisations and major corporations to build support for a bill that is at the heart of Obama's agenda.
In the press conference, Obama rejected the argument that getting America off oil and coal would put additional pressure on the federal deficit. He also directly took on critics who say the sweeping climate change bill would inflict high costs on ordinary American families.
"At a time of great fiscal challenges, this legislation is paid for by the polluters who currently emit the dangerous carbon emissions that contaminate the water we drink and pollute the air we breathe," he said.
He repeated what has become the mantra of his administration that investment in clean energy would help save or create millions of new green jobs. "These incentives will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy," he said.
The personal appeal from Obama caps a weeklong PR offensive - joined later tonight by Al Gore who had a conference call scheduled with tens of thousands of his supporters.
Administration officials have fanned out across the country to promote the bill. Today alone Vice-president Joe Biden was in Ohio talking up the potential of green manufacturing jobs, the US interior secretary, Ken Salazar, was in New Jersey awarding new offshore wind farm licences, and the energy secretary, Steven Chu, announcing $8bn in loan guarantees for carmakers to promote the development of electric vehicles.
More than 20 leading corporations, including energy companies like Duke Energy, Exelon and NRG as well as firms like Starbucks, eBay, and Nike took out full-page ads today in a number of newspapers on Capitol Hill in support of the bill. "We support this legislation because certainty and clear rules of the road enable us to plan," the ad began.
Environmental organisations have also joined the effort, circulating a cost-analysis report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office which said the bill would cost the average household about $175 by 2020 - or 48 cents a day. That is a fraction of the cost to the average family that Republican opponents of the bill had claimed.
Youth activists, meanwhile, organised a flash mob in a House office building today.
But Democrats in Congress had still been pressing for a direct sign from Obama. Yesterday, GK Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat who sits on the House energy committee, acknowledged that the bill was foundering and said Obama would need to make a personal appeal to ensure the bill's passage.
"I think the time is right now for the president of the United States to really weigh in on the energy conversation. He needs to use his communications skills as he does so well," he told a seminar on energy. "If he can use his bully pulpit like this I think the American people are going to get it."
The bill, now swollen to 1,200 pages by various amendments, would cut America's greenhouse gas emissions by 17% over 2005 levels by 2020. It is seen as crucial to the prospects of getting a global agreement to act against climate change at Copenhagen later this year.
The bill has been criticised by Greenpeace and others for failing to move aggressively enough to cap emissions to prevent some of the extreme effects of climate change occurring late in the century.
It has also run into strong opposition from Democrats from rural and farming states, and it was far from certain today that the party leadership can muster enough votes to get the package through the House. Republicans almost uniformly oppose the climate change bill, and have put forward an alternative plan calling for 100 new nuclear plants.
However, Democrats are under pressure to move ahead on the energy bill and turn their attention towards the other item on Obama's agenda: healthcare.
Pelosi decided last night to press ahead for a vote - despite the lack of a formal deal with the bill's most vocal opponent, Collin Peterson, the Democratic chairman of the House agricultural committee. Peterson has been leading the campaign from farm state Democrats for better terms for the ethanol industry in the bill - a role acknowledged by Obama today who addressed him personally in his opening remarks.
The gesture was part of a broader effort by the White House and administration officials to corral congressional Democrats for a vote. The White House sent Lisa Jackson, the chairman of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Tom Vilsack, the US agricultural secretary, to meet Peterson on Friday, but an aide to the congressman said no deal was reached.
However, Pelosi said she would keep to the schedule. "There are some issues still under discussion, but we are confident we can resolve them by the time the bill goes to the floor on Friday," a spokesman told reporters.