Obama urges Congress to pass climate bill
President emphasizes economic benefits of stalled legislation
BOSTON -- President Obama touted the economic benefits of green technologies in a speech Friday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, challenging Congress to pass comprehensive energy legislation and describing some critics of the effort as cynical or self-interested.
Speaking after a tour of several high-tech laboratories dedicated to the creation of new and cheaper sources of energy, Obama said the work in Congress "must culminate" in passage of a climate change bill.
"Such legislation can transform our energy system into one that is far more efficient, clean and independent -- making the best use of resources we have in abundance, through clean coal technology, safe nuclear power, sustainably grown biofuels and energy we harness from wind, waves and sun," Obama said.
At the beginning of the year, Obama officials signaled their desire to pass energy legislation -- including a cap on carbon emissions -- by the end of the year and before a global climate change conference in Copenhagen next month.
But the legislation has stalled in the Senate, where critics say that curbing greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change could lead to higher energy prices. Administration officials say the debate over the legislation could be delayed into 2010.
Officials across the world are watching the process closely. In an interview, Japan's state secretary for foreign affairs, Tetsuro Fukuyama, said he understands it will be hard to pass a Senate bill before the Copenhagen conference but added, "I hope President Obama can take leadership on this issue."
In his remarks Friday, Obama acknowledged the difficulty of passing legislation that will have a profound effect on the U.S. energy industries and other powerful interests, and he said that "the closer we get, the harder the opposition will fight and the more we'll hear from those whose interest or ideology runs counter to action."
"There are those who will suggest that moving toward clean energy will destroy our economy when it's the system we currently have that endangers our prosperity and prevents us from creating millions of new jobs," he said. "There are those who will make cynical claims that contradict the overwhelming scientific evidence, claims whose only purpose is to defeat or delay the change we know is necessary."
Although some members of the environmental community lauded Obama's speech -- Joshua Freed of the advocacy group Third Way said the president managed to "reject the can't-do pessimism of opponents of energy reform" -- others questioned why the administration hasn't done more to push action on climate change at home and abroad.
Damon Moglen, global warming campaign director for the advocacy group Greenpeace, said Obama's efforts were insufficient. "It is clear that Congress will not pass legislation this year that goes far enough and fast enough in addressing the demands of climate change," Moglen said. "The president must get out of the back seat and take the wheel of America's climate policy."