In the past, President Obama has invited State of the Union guests who embodied his push for green energy. But Tuesday night, the White House is taking on climate skeptics directly, by seating in the first lady's box a scientist who's studied sea level rise.
Nicole Hernandez Hammer is a climate activist with the Moms Clean Air Force, working to enlist parents in the public policy debate over how to address air pollution and global warming. Hammer's group sent several names to the White House for its consideration; Hammer said she was "surprised" to learn Tuesday she had been selected, even though her work meshes closely with the administration's environmental agenda.
"I’m anticipating hearing some good news about climate change and policies related to clean energy," said Hammer, in a phone interview shortly before leaving Miami to come to Washington. "It’s my understanding they choose folks that align with the policies that are going to be mentioned."
Hammer, who was born in Guatemala and came to the United States when she was 4 years old, devotes much of her time to educating Latinos about how they are vulnerable to climate impacts on sea level. She noted that the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration recently issued a study showing that while 39 percent of Americans live on the coasts, 49 percent of Latinos do.
She recalled that when she was surveying a federal list of areas most imperiled by sea level rise and other climate impacts, "I was looking at their list and I realized there were places I had family -- in South Carolina, in Florida and Texas."
Hammer, who has both an undergraduate degree in integrated natural sciences and a master's in biology, will not only attend the president's speech but meet Tuesday with Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy and participate in a White House event on engaging children in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects.
Hammer said she's particularly looking forward to meeting with students at the White House. "When I was kid growing up, there weren’t scientists who looked like me," she said.
For those keeping track, this means eight of the first lady's guests boast some envir0nmental connection.
Last year, Iowan Lee Maxwell, who works on wind turbines, sat in Michelle Obama's box.
In 2012, Bryan Ritterby, a composite technician working on wind turbines for a Michigan firm came.
In 2011, the White House invited Gary and Robert Allen, two brothers in Michigan who used a grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to convert their roofing business to produce solar shingles, and Brandon Ford, a then-junior at West Philadelphia High School who worked on developing hybrid vehicles.
And at Obama's first State of the Union in 2010, the first lady hosted Li Boynton, a then-senior from Bellaire, Tex., who focused on researching ways to test for clean drinking water, and Don Karner, the president of a Phoenix company that received stimulus funds to expand the nation's electric vehicle charging stations.