President Obama will deliver his sixth State of the Union address on Jan. 28. Over the next few days, The Fix is previewing Obama's major themes and challenges in the speech, focusing on one issue a day leading up to Tuesday's address. Today's talking point is the environment.
Seven months after President Obama unveiled his vision for grappling with climate change, some environmentalists hope he will choose Tuesday’s State of the Union Address to announce how he plans to go farther in protecting the warming planet.
Some in the fossil fuel industry, in contrast, are looking for what they would consider a more reasonable approach. “2014 has the potential to be a breakthrough year on climate in the U.S. and the president has the opportunity to show stronger leadership this year than he has,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “At the top of the list,” he added, “is a renewed commitment to get tough on the climate action plan.” For Brune that would mean “much more vigorous support for clean energy growth,” including government grants, investment in research and development, reducing emissions by the federal government and talking about renewables as a creator of jobs.
And it would mean further efforts to curtail the use of coal to generate electricity. In September, the Environmental Protection Agency issued proposed new rules governing future coal-fired plants, and the agency is scheduled to release standards for existing plants in June.
Last week, some of the nation’s leading environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, broke with Obama over the administration's energy policy, which still embraces gas, oil and coal. The groups want a strict climate test on all energy decisions.
On the other hand, Nancy Gravatt, senior vice president for communications at the National Mining Association, said she hopes Obama will move toward “policies that are truly aligned with an ‘all of the above’ energy policy” and scale back proposed EPA standards for coal plants that “rely on unproven or commercially unavailable technology.” With coal still the fuel for nearly 40% of electricity generation in the United States, Gravatt said the industry wants Obama to enunciate policies that “leverage the power and value of coal, which is our nation’s largest energy source and source of electricity.”
She also said the mining industry is looking for progress on speeding up the granting of permits for mines, which, she said, can take ten years. The product of those efforts is crucial to upgrading the country’s infrastructure, Gravatt said.
With Congress stalemated over new designations of wild lands, some wilderness groups are holding out hope that Obama will choose this year, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act, to renew a commitment to protect public lands.
That would include using the American Antiquities Act to protect more sites, if necessary, and better funding the agencies responsible for wilderness and wildlife, said Jeremy Garncarz, senior director of wild lands designation at the Wilderness Society.“There’s an opportunity here for him to really talk about continuing to protect what really defined our nation,” Garncarz said.