Washington, DC -- If I had any doubts that political geography is driving President Obama to fight his 2012 re-election campaign on the landscape of clean energy as the key strategy to winning the future, those doubts evaporated this week. In what was apparently a direct response to the State of the Union's emphasis on clean energy and infrastructure, the House Republican leadership responded with a savage budget proposal to slash the most popular and job-creating clean energy programs in the country -- not because they hate these programs so much, but because the President has championed them.
In a package of budget cuts totaling $32 billion (which is less than current subsidies to coal and oil), House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) focused like a laser on energy efficiency and clean energy, cutting $899 million from those programs and totally eliminating all funding for weatherization and efficiency.
Also completely eliminated was funding for high-speed rail.
It was almost as if the President had set the trap and the Republicans had taken the bait. Obama says "America can win the future." The Republican response is "Says who?"
Obama now has a window during which he can, using his Administrative authority, move forward with a positive, popular agenda -- and all the Republicans will respond with is "hell no, no more jobs!" Since the steps Obama can take without Congress are still not enough to create the millions of jobs America needs, his sale is still a tough one. But this shapes up as his strongest option.
Obama is moving aggressively to take control here. On Monday, the Department of the Interior came out with a strong proposal to move offshore wind forward, substituting wind development for the areas in the Atlantic previously sought out by the oil industry. It's hard to imagine a clearer contrast for the voters.
On Tuesday, Vice President Biden followed up on the State of the Union promise of a high-speed rail revolution, calling for a six-year, $53 billion dollar investment to serve 85% of the American people.
Wednesday, just as the Republicans all but proclaimed they were actively opposed to clean energy job creation, Energy Secretary Stephen Chu became perhaps the first Energy Secretary in history to become an economic development cheerleader, advocating the restoration of American high-tech manufacturing as the key to economic recovery and competitiveness for the nation. Chu spoke twice: once to a renewable energy forum hosted by the Administration at the Department of the Interior, and the second time when receiving the Annual Award from the Blue Green Alliance. His emphasis at the renewable forum was on the need for America to get beyond coal and move to clean source of electricity. At the Blue Green event he went further, recalling the days when "Made in America" was a badge of pride, and demanding that America reject the notion that as long as products are invented here, it doesn't matter if we make them.
It's beginning to happen. Thursday morning the Spanish-owned wind company GAMESA and Northrop Grumman launched a major project in an abandoned military facility to build a prototype offshore wind turbine in Newport News, Virginia. Even Virginia's Governor, Bob McDonnell, a notorious fan of dirty coal energy, was forced to come and celebrate, although his own state lacks -- and he opposes -- the clean energy standards that in other states create a market for the power these offshore turbines will produce.
A lot is at stake. A new University of Massachusetts study showed that pending EPA Clean Air Act regulations -- which the Republican House Leadership really does hate and fear because they will help move America off of dirty energy and on to clean -- will also, in the process, create 1.5 million news jobs.
Don't expect Hal Rogers to admit that his budget cuts will throw Americans out of work. But do expect President Obama to remind Americans in 2012 that while Main Street suffered in the cold in February of 2011, the new House Republican leadership played dog in the manger.
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