Obama Avoids 'Green Jobs' Talk, Skirts Political Quagmires
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's jobs speech on Thursday night was infused with the passion that many who campaigned for him in 2008 had been waiting to hear again. Yet despite his combative rhetoric, the president largely avoided the “green jobs” talk formerly at the center of his economic message.
"From an energy policy perspective there was really nothing there, which is a little surprising given the historical focus of the Obama administration on green jobs and given the number of significant provisions that are set to expire at the end of this year," said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program, in an interview with HuffPost.
Still, the president's zeal won over a number of green advocates, including BlueGreen Alliance's David Foster, who said Obama's call to action could help pass clean energy tax incentives that have been stymied by political bickering.
"His agenda will set the stage for revitalizing our economy and doing the work that America needs done," Foster said in a statement Thursday night. "Now the Congress needs to respond by quickly breaking the logjam on the jobs crisis."
Since House Democrats don't have the numbers to force a vote on the American Jobs Act, Obama's jobs plan may have few avenues for passage or even a vote save through the super committee, HuffPost's Sam Stein reports.
Green advocates note that the 2011 jobs plan is decidedly less committed to green principles than Obama's 2009 economic stimulus plan, which outlined an agenda he said would "finally spark the creation of a clean energy industry that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next few years, manufacturing wind turbines and solar cells, for example -- millions more after that."
"There wasn’t much of a proactive agenda for the type of large-scale weatherization or renewable energy deployment that he talked about doing in his campaign and as part of the stimulus that never really was adopted as part of the stimulus but that his administration was geared towards," said Slocum. "Instead he was talking about advanced bio-fuels and fuel-efficient vehicles and the larger context of making America competitive again. But nothing really specific on energy, which I was a little surprised by."
Flash back to February 2009, when Obama, speaking at the Energy Department, put green jobs at the center of his agenda, citing the latest bad news about jobless claims as a reason for quick action:
While there was no more talk of wind turbines and solar panels on Thursday, the president's $447 billion plan includes new spending on infrastructure, which it pays for by repealing oil and gas company tax incentives and collecting more revenue from big corporations and the highest-earning Americans.
And some greens, shaken last week by the administration's rejection of the Environmental Protection Agency's tougher smog standards, were mollified by the president's promise not to "let the economic crisis be used as an excuse to wipe out the basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades." He said in the speech:
But what we can’t do -- what I won’t 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. 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.
Obama also announced a $25 billion effort aimed at modernizing more than 35,000 public schools. “Funds could be used for a range of emergency repair and renovation projects, greening and energy efficiency upgrades, asbestos abatement and removal, and modernization efforts to build new science and computer labs and to upgrade technology in our schools,” says a White House summary of the American Jobs Act.
Obama walked a fine line on Thursday as environmentalists watched for him to give voice to their priorities while Republican critics watched for him to promote what they call the same failed policies.
“He keeps talking about green jobs. Where are they? Let's have real jobs. We can have energy jobs. Let's get that done. And if I'm president, I'm making that happen on Day One," said Mitt Romney during Wednesday night's GOP candidate debate.
The failure of Solyndra Inc., the California solar company that received a $535 million federal loan guarantee from the U.S. government before laying off 1,100 workers and filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, gave the president's critics further ammunition.
The president skirted political quagmires by avoiding talk of "clean energy" -- he didn't use the term once -- and in doing so managed to win over Republican critics while still assuaging green groups' worst fears.
"The proposals the President outlined tonight merit consideration," Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. "We hope he gives serious consideration to our ideas as well."
The lukewarm embrace of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Frances Beinecke seemed to capture green groups' collective sentiment.
“President Obama has presented a real plan to get Americans back to work -- unlike Republican leaders in Congress whose so-called jobs agenda would destroy our environmental and health safeguards," said Beinecke in a statement Thursday night. “We can put Americans back to work and still protect public health. To pretend that we must choose one or another is a false choice that needlessly puts workers and their families at risk. The next step is to build on the president’s plans by fully embracing clean energy jobs."