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State Of Union: Obama Touts 80% Clean Energy, High Speed Rail By 2035

Barack Obama State of the Union address 2011

Clean Energy

In his State of the Union Address, U.S. President Barack Obama has touted a goal for the U.S. of producing 80 percent clean energy by 2035.

This clean energy goal includes power from sources such as “clean coal” and natural gas. Many would argue that natural gas does not constitute clean (enough) energy.

Additionally, the central concept of clean coal involves capturing huge quantities of carbon dioxide from existing coal-fired power plants and burying it safely underground, before it reaches the atmosphere. It remains to be seen whether this will be viable on a commercial scale.

Obama also included nuclear power in the clean energy mix. No new nuclear power plants have been developed in the U.S. in nearly 30 years. Many people oppose a renaissance of nuclear power, including a large percentage of the public. That could always change.

The next generation of nuclear power does have influential supporters, including Bill Gates, and top NASA climate scientist James Hansen. Hansen has repeatedly said, including in his book Storms of My Grandchildren, there is little chance of achieving the necessary carbon emission cuts in the required time without developing more nuclear power.

Obama has also called for Congress to terminate billions of dollars in subsidies for fossil fuel companies. Obama said,

“I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.”

This is not a new stance for President Obama. In last year’s budget Obama proposed the termination of almost $40 billion worth of oil, gas and coal company subsidies. The proposal was rejected.

In this State of the Union speech, Obama asserted that clean coal, natural gas and nuclear power, as well as wind and solar power will be needed to meet the target of 80 percent clean energy by 2035. He urged both “Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen”.

High-Speed Rail and Electric Vehicles

Obama also touted major development in high-speed rail. He has called for 80 percent of Americans to have access to high speed rail by 2035.

He also stated the aim of being the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. I wonder if China will change to try and challenge that target? China’s output of electric vehicles is expected to reach 1 million units by 2020.

Infrastructure, Clean Technology and Innovation

President Obama called for major new investments in clean technologies (or cleantech).

Obama explained that major U.S. investment and research in clean technologies would help the country become more energy independent. He also framed it as a challenge for the U.S. to outstrip rapidly developing countries such as China and India, in the race to a clean energy future. Obama stated,

Our infrastructure used to be the best — but our lead has slipped. … Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a “D.”

“We’re issuing a challenge. We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo Projects of our time.”

It seems the clean energy and clean technology challenge has been set by President Obama. Is America up to the challenge?

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