President's State of the Union Address Fails to Tap Sustainable Energy Opportunities

Editor’s Note: President Bush did not even mention the environment during his State of the Union address January 21. Nor was the environment mentioned in the Democratic response to the President’s address given by Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, or by Democratic Presidential hopefuls Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and Howard Dean.

by Ken Bossong

Since the 1970’s, various Administrations have vowed to lower imports and enhance US economic, military, geopolitical and environmental security. While most have not met these goals, as with his predecessors, the President in his State of the Union address has missed a historic opportunity to confront these issues head-on and strengthen the US economy, security, and quality of life.

Energy policy is a key player in the health of the American economy. It is intricately intertwined with the nation’s foreign policy; the war in Iraq is only the most recent example. And energy policy is a major, if not the leading, factor in most environmental and public health issues. In short, energy policy is perhaps one of the most critical public policy positions a nation must face, and yet President Bush gave it short shrift in his State of the Union address.

With oil imports now counting for more than half of U.S. petroleum consumption and natural gas imports likewise rising, the nation is exporting both money and jobs. Moreover national and homeland security alike are being undermined by U.S. reliance on energy imports from politically unstable regions of the world.

Yet the State of the Union address included no explicit initiatives to wean the U.S. from these sources.

Global warming continues to worsen with 2003 now officially recorded as being the second-warmest year on record. Many would argue that it is the foremost world-wide environmental threat and some recent studies suggest that climate change is already contributing to tens of thousands of deaths annually.

Yet, while the U.S. accounts for 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions, the Presidents State of the Union message failed to even mention this issue.

A quarter of the nation was blacked-out in August 2003 due, in large part, to an electrical system that is overly dependent on large, centralized power plants and an out-of-date transmission grid. Few doubt that further large-scale blackouts are possible, if not probable.

Yet President Bush largely side-stepped the issue by obliquely acknowledging it without offering any solutions.

Had the President chosen to assert forward-looking leadership on the energy issue, he would have called for a major commitment to getting the U.S. on the road to a sustainable energy future with an investment as least as great as that envisioned by his new space program agenda.

At a minimum, such a policy commitment would include:

* a doubling – or more – of federal tax and budget support for the cross-section of the core renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies over the next five years;

* enactment of the consensus energy efficiency and renewable energy provisions that are contained in the now-stalled energy bill pending before the U.S. Congress;

* approval of a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard that would mandate that 20% or more of U.S. electricity come from renewable sources by 2020;

* strengthening of automobile fuel economy standards so that cars are at least twice as efficient within the next decade as they are today;

* a commitment to re-engage the international community and enact enforceable goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions;

* setting and implementing a near-term target to begin reducing oil and natural gas imports with a long-term goal of weaning the U.S. from all energy imports;

* acting on a range of other initiatives to increase government procurement of sustainable energy technologies; to strengthen energy efficiency standards for appliances, buildings, lighting, and industrial processes; and to mandate the interconnection and net metering of distributed renewable energy technologies.

Such an energy policy would go a long way towards addressing a cross-section of the problems now facing the United States and would prove key to improving the state of the union.


Ken Bossong is the former executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign, a nationwide network of 500+ environmental and business groups working to promote sustainable energy technologies. He is presently the coordinator of the Sustainable Energy Coalition, a coalition of 73 national and state business, consumer, environmental, and energy policy organizations founded in 1992 to promote increased use of renewable energy and energy efficient technologies. The views in this statement are solely those of the author and are not intended to reflect the position of either the Sustainable Energy Coalition or any of its member groups.

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