President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to a clean energy future for America last night in his State of the Union Address. The Republican responses, on the other hand, underscored just how stuck in the past the leaders of the GOP remain.
From Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniel's official response to the statements of the party's presidential candidates, not one Republican leaders offered any vision or plan for how America can innovate, create technological breakthroughs, or lead the global clean energy market. One would think they live in some perverse, parallel universe.
President Obama offered a detailed blueprint for how a national clean energy standard, energy efficiency programs, tax credits for wind and solar projects, government support of advanced research, and other measures could create jobs and make America more energy independent.
Frances Beinecke, President of the NRDC Action Fund, states, "More than 100,000 people currently work in the solar industry, according to the National Solar Jobs Census. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the wind industry employs 85,000 Americans. And more than 150,000 Americans currently have jobs making parts for and assembling clean cars -- hybrids, electric cars, and other advanced vehicles that hardly existed 10 years ago."
Neither Daniels nor Romney mentioned these enormous opportunities. Instead, they stuck to the same old call for more drilling. That's their default button.
Funny thing was President Obama already beat them to it. Much to our concern, energy companies drilled almost 21,000 oil wells in the first eight months of 2011 -- the highest number in almost 30 years. That's nearly double the amount drilling the same period in 2010, and nearly triple the number drilled in 2009.
Yet all that drilling hasn't shielded us from price spikes. In 2011, the United States produced more oil than at any time since 2003, and yet gas prices still hit record highs. Oil prices are set on an international market and shaped by global forces beyond our control. We can't rely on fossil fuels alone to power our economy. We need to develop additional homegrown resources like better performing cars, sustainable biofuels, and wind and solar power.
Americans agree. Nine in 10 Americans -- including 85 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of Independents -- say developing renewable energy should be a priority for the president and Congress. But Republican leaders haven't caught on yet.
In his response to the State of the Union Address, Romney made no reference to renewable power, efficiency, or any other clean solution. Daniels didn't either. In fact, most of the Republicans focused on President Obama's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline last week -- repeatedly misstating that this decision cost "tens of thousands of jobs." The truth is that Keystone XL would've created a few thousand jobs (only a few hundred permanent jobs) and the bulk of the oil would have been exported to other countries. But my bigger beef with this reasoning is -- if Republicans are so concerned about jobs? Why are they fighting the very public safeguards that will create millions of new positions? Frances Beinecke once again points out that, "public health and environmental standards create jobs at the same time they protect our families from polluters... The number of Americans working as boilermakers grew by 35 percent between 1999 and 2001 because of updates in Clean Air Act standards. Taken together, the environmental technology sector has generated more than 1.7 million American jobs as of 2008." Why are those few thousand temporary jobs more important to the GOP then millions of good-paying jobs that can never be outsourced and will bring energy right here to our backyard?
Daniels misjudged the public on another key issue when he inserted a dig about light bulbs into his speech. This was a reference to the efficiency standard for light bulbs that will save consumers $10 million a year and that Congress and President Bush supported four years ago. I welcome a little humor in political discourse, but when Daniels mocked this standard, he sounded remarkably out of step. These light bulbs help prevent the need for 30 large power plans and all the pollution they generate. This helps make our families healthier.
Further, at a time when so many families are struggling, Daniels decides to ridicule a measure that will lower monthly utility bills. Just one company in Ohio -- Lighting Science Group -- has saved Americans more then $34 million in electricity costs each year. The new standards will result in a savings of more then $12 billion per year in the form of lower electric bills. My family members -- most of them are conservative Republicans -- would never make fun of saving money because they value their hard-earned dollars.
This is just another example of how out-of-touch Republican leaders are when it comes to energy. Most Americans want to save money on electric bills, drive cars that go farther on a gallon of gas, and expand clean energy. Today's crop of Republican leaders doesn't have anything to offer them.
Most Americans want to save money on electric bills, drive cars that go farther on a gallon of gas, and expand clean energy; this current crop of Republican leaders demonstrated anew that they have nothing to offer but the same dog-eared roadmap for the race to the bottom.