January 30, 2012
The State of the Union: Growing Warmer
Framed by the State of the Union speech, signs of hope and signs of challenge emerged throughout the week for climate activists, from the closing of six dirty coal plants in Ohio to the release of a new zone map for gardeners.
In the annual State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday, President Obama made one reference to climate change, saying, “The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change,” as he segued from a promotion of more aggressive development of U.S. oil and gas resources to a ringing call for clean energy. While calling for an “all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy,” he made no mention of coal or nuclear energy, although background documents touch on those energy sources as well.
Different interpretations of the President’s speech abound, with some climate activists disappointed by the lack of ambition to take on climate change directly—even as the need to act becomes ever more pressing—and the promotion of carbon-emitting petroleum fuels. Others took heart from the President’s willingness even to mention climate change, seeing it as a signal he has not lost interest in the issue, and his defiant defense of clean energy in the face of opposition attacks on the Administration for providing federal loans to the now-bankrupt solar company Solyndra.
The ongoing Republican presidential primary race provided a bizarre political backdrop, with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich dashing from their clash in South Carolina to Florida, which stands to lose much of its current land mass to sea level rise due to climate change. On the Florida airwaves, supporters of Romney—who as governor recognized the need to reduce carbon emissions—attacked Gingrich for appearing with Speaker Pelosi in 2008 in a TV spot calling for federal action on climate change.
Meanwhile, in Ohio, climate and clean energy activists won a tremendous victory when First Energy announced the closing of six coal-fired power plants. Of course, the company blamed new clean air rules reducing pollution from mercury and other air toxics, rather than acknowledging that the plants were old, dirty, inefficient, and under tremendous pressure from the Beyond Coal campaign to close. Kudos to the Sierra Club and its Ohio and national allies for this impressive achievement.
This week, with little fanfare, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a new plant hardiness zone map, used by gardeners to select plantings that will be compatible with temperatures in their area. The climate change deniers in the Bush Administration pulled a similar map from circulation in 2003 because of the clear northward trend of planting zones. USDA insists that this is not a climate change map, but when compared to the previous map, issued in 1990, the warming trend is hard to miss. The states of the union are growing warmer.
Lara Levison, Domestic Policy Director