Tonight’s State of the Union address by President Obama will be yet another critical moment for the President’s legacy as he begins his final four years in elected office. Amid a crowded agenda that will certainly include increased gun violence and the latest round of chicken concerning the budget and deficit, President Obama’s vision for addressing climate change will have repercussions that will be felt for generations. For climate watchers, comments by the President, most recently during his Inaugural Address, are the clearest indication yet that the President intends to shape his legacy around action on climate change.
Below is a primer on some key things to watch for and consider during tonight’s speech.
- A National Carbon Conversation. After references to the need for a national conversation on climate in two recent addresses by the President, it’s clear that momentum is building within the White House to play a strong role in shaping this dialogue. Tonight’s speech should take us another step toward a dialogue with the American public, including a discussion on how carbon emissions are contributing to climate change and what can be done to mitigate these emissions.
- Setting Limits on Carbon. The administration (and in particular, the EPA) has recently signaled that it intends to increase regulation of carbon pollution from existing and new coal-fired power plants. In addition, the extension of this regulatory power to other sectors could fall within the President’s executive authority if he chooses to exercise it. Additional action to reduce pollution and set a price on carbon will require both executive action and congressional leadership.
- An All-of-the-Above Energy Policy. Likened to “having your cake and eating it too,” the President’s recent suggestions for an energy policy that’s inclusive of continued subsidies to carbon-polluting sources like coal and oil while setting limits on carbon emissions is contradictory. The President’s speech will likely provide some important insights into how he intends to strike that balance.
- Keystone Pipeline. The administration has signaled that a decision will be made in the coming months on either the approval or rejection of the highly controversial Keystone XL project. Regardless of whether the President directly addresses Keystone in tonight’s address, the reality is that this pipeline will be carrying the one of the dirtiest energy sources in the world. The President’s understanding of this consequence will hopefully mean a rejection of this proposition.
- Presidential Appointments. With the strong climate credentials of John Kerry, recently confirmed as the new Secretary of State, the President is assembling a team that recognizes the imperative to deal with climate change not just in the United States, but globally. The Secretary of State is the right person to lead in negotiating bilateral and multilateral agreements with critical countries like China and India in order to move the world forward with solutions.