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State of the Union 2008: Bush Offers Recycled Rhetoric in Place of True Leadership on Energy and the Environment

By January 29, 2008

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In his final State of the Union address Monday night, President George W. Bush devoted only 11 sentences to energy and the environment—and didn’t say anything new.

In place of much-need leadership on these two critical issues, President Bush offered what seemed like a wink and a nod, calling for many of the same actions and policy initiatives that he has frequently recommended but rarely done much to advance over the past seven years. During this short section of the speech on energy and the environment, the president was interrupted seven times by applause, presumably by the few remaining politicians on Capitol Hill who have not grown tired of rhetoric instead of results on two of the most vital issues facing the United States—and the world.

The president emphasized "clean energy technology," urged the increased use of “renewable power and emissions-free nuclear power,” and called for investment in "new technologies that can generate coal power while capturing carbon emissions." President Bush also suggested creating a “new international clean technology fund, which will help developing nations like India and China make greater use of clean energy sources.”

Global Warming and Greenhouse Gases
The big question on everyone’s mind was what President Bush would have to say about global warming and the reducing greenhouse gas emissions that have accelerated the problem.

The president called for “an international agreement that has the potential to slow, stop, and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases.” Sounds good, right?

Sadly, President Bush also had this to say: “This agreement will be effective only if it includes commitments by every major economy and gives none a free ride. The United States is committed to strengthening our energy security and confronting global climate change. And the best way to meet these goals is for America to continue leading the way toward the development of cleaner and more energy-efficient technology.”

Where is U.S. Leadership on Global Warming
Unfortunately, President Bush’s idea of U.S. leadership on global warming seems to be standing outside the international community of nations with his arms folded and telling China, India and other developing economies “you first.”

There is no question that any solution to global warming must include action by nations such as China and India, as well as other developing economies, but it is unrealistic to expect those nations to do more and to act sooner than the United States, which still accounts for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and has enjoyed the economic benefits of industrialization for more than a century.

Past Time for President Bush to Act On His Promises
The real test of President Bush’s commitment to clean energy and the environment is not so much what he says in the State of the Union address, however, but in what he includes in the 2009 budget request that he is preparing to send to Congress.

“The proof of the president’s commitment to the laudable energy goals he expressed in last night’s State of the Union address will be found in his support for significant actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and his including sufficient funding for energy-efficiency programs in his fiscal 2009 budget request,” said Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy. “The aggressive agenda established in the recently enacted Energy Independence and Security Act will remain unfulfilled without full funding of its new initiatives.

“The president had a golden opportunity last night to address the cap and trade bills pending in Congress and to signal his support for increased funding for clean energy technologies and energy-efficiency programs,” she said. “However, the 11 sentences he devoted to energy policy contained no such commitments, nor any major new policies.”

Will President Bush Take Action or Take a Pass?
Kansas Governor Kathleen Sibelius, who offered the Democratic response to the president’s State of the Union address, spoke to the American people and urged President Bush to take action when she said:

“You and I stand ready—ready to protect our environment for future generations and stay economically competitive. Mayors have committed their cities to going green; governors have joined together, leading efforts for energy security and independence; and the majority in Congress is ready to tackle the challenge of reducing global warming and creating a new energy future for America.

“So we ask you, Mr. President, will you join us? It's time to get to work.”
Photo by Getty Images

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