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While energy efficiency has often occupied a low-profile in the nation’s climate debate, Obama gave it plenty of air time on Tuesday night.

“I’m also issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years,” he declared. “We'll work with the states to do it. Those states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen.”

Many experts have identified increasing energy efficiency as the cheapest and most effective way to lower greenhouse gas emissions; the Alliance to Save Energy has outlined how to achieve Obama’s goal in its Energy 2030 plan.

There are a handful of steps the administration can take on its own, such as the Energy Department issuing tighter standards for both consumer appliance and business equipment under current law. But Obama made it clear his administration will also leverage its influence with the states by establishing an “Energy Efficiency Race to the Top” program. That program aims to encourage states to cut waste, through measures such as adopting tighter building efficiency standards and making it easier for industrial facilities to combine their heat and power generation.