President ignores energy issues, but says jobs can’t come at expense of public health, environment

September 9, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

President Barack Obama speaks to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011. Watching are Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Unlike some previous major speeches (see here, here and here), President Obama’s “jobs” address last night made no mention of coal — not even clean coal. But, of course, it didn’t include any discussion of the role our energy system plays in jobs and the economy, either.

As Greenwire previously reported, some advocates of clean energy — and clean jobs in general — saw last night’s speech as a bit of test for the president’s commitment on these issues:

… There’s a bigger employment picture that some advocates hope is not lost in Obama’s focus on attaining immediate jobs. The idea that he might shuffle away from his pledge to “win the future” with innovative technologies — his central employment pitch this year — frustrates environmentalists who point to strong public support for renewable energy.

There’s also concern that Obama is allowing House Republicans to shape his employment approach. Seeking bipartisan compromise could compress the president’s vision for clean energy, they say. The risk is that Republicans will reject Obama’s compromised terms, providing losses legislatively and in the battle for ideas.

Interestingly, the story also reported:

Some moderate Republicans are willing to work with Obama to extend tax credits for renewable energy and to help coal plants install scrubbers and other equipment to cut air emissions, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in an interview.

Those and other things, like carbon capture and sequestration, would be paid for with revenue derived from royalties and permits associated with expanded oil and gas drilling.

Over at Climate Progress, Joe Romm went pretty easy on President Obama, given the lack of focus on the issues Romm rightly cares about:

On substance, it was a solid B. The biggest disappointment was that he never mentioned clean energy by name as a focus area. No, I’m not going to keep giving him a failing grade for not talking about climate change in a jobs speech focused on the near term — although this speech shows precisely what he could have done 2 years ago to get the climate and clean energy jobs bill passed.

The most Obama said on clean energy was to continue his theme that clean energy is a core job-creating industry of the near future:

If we provide the right incentives and support – and if we make sure our trading partners play by the rules – we can be the ones to build everything from fuel-efficient cars to advanced biofuels to semiconductors that are sold all over the world. That’s how America can be number one again.

The president did offer this response to continued efforts by Republicans (and by coal-state Democrats like Sen. Manchin and Rep. Rahall) to dismantle federal environmental and public health protections:

I reject the argument that says for the economy to grow, we have to roll back protections that ban hidden fees by credit card companies, or rules that keep our kids from being exposed to mercury, or laws that prevent the health insurance industry from shortchanging patients. I reject the idea that we have to strip away collective bargaining rights to compete in a global economy. We shouldn’t be in a race to the bottom, where we try to offer the cheapest labor and the worst pollution standards. America should be in a race to the top. And I believe we can win that race.

And President Obama also offered this strong support for protecting workers:

But what we can’t do — what I will not do — is let this economic crisis be used as an excuse to wipe out the basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades.  I reject the idea that we need to ask people to choose between their jobs and their safety.

Of course, those comments come just a week after the president personally blocked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new smog standards — rules that not only would have ended a long delay in properly protecting public health, but also created lots of jobs in pollution-control industries.

And it was also just a week ago that MSHA announced that the Obama administration would further delay long-delayed rules to require proximity detection systems on underground coal-mining equipment — despite the clear worker safety and economic benefits of such rules.

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