Obama's Push To Create Jobs Has Green Side

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for 80 percent of the country's electricity to come from clean sources by 2035. He has been promoting the move as a way to create jobs and improve national security but has been silent about any impact it might have on the nation's greenhouse gas emissions.

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Today, President Obama will tour energy efficiency laboratories at Penn State University. It's part of his campaign to create jobs by promoting clean energy. Clean energy would also help to reduce greenhouse gases and fight climate change. But as NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports, you wouldn't know that by listening to the president.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: President Obama is pushing a new clean electricity standard as a way to put Americans to work. He announced it in last week's State of the Union address.

President BARACK OBAMA: Now clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they're selling. So tonight I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: By 2035, 80 percent of America's electricity will come from clean energy sources.

SHOGREN: Experts say depending on the details, the proposal could slash greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector by as much as 50 percent. And power plants are the nation's biggest source of global warming pollution. But the president isn't selling the program that way.

In the State of the Union, he didn't mention climate change, global warming or greenhouse gases. The environmental impact of the proposal wasn't included in fact sheets passed out by the White House. Nor has the president mentioned it in speeches about clean energy since then. Jonathan Lash is the president of World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank.

Mr. JONATHAN LASH (President, World Resources Institute): It appears that he has concluded that it's not politically useful at this point to talk about climate change. I'm disappointed. We face an urgent threat from climate change and we need to talk about it as a nation.

SHOGREN: The details of the president's proposal aren't out yet. What is clear is that the president wants to include natural gas, nuclear power and clean coal to lure Republican support for the proposal. That also explains why he's downplaying the impact on climate change.

David Kreutzer from the Heritage Foundation is a critic of the president's climate policy. Kreutzer says however the president characterizes his clean electricity standard, it is a climate change policy.

Dr. DAVID KREUTZER (Research Fellow in Energy Economics and Climate Change, Heritage Foundation's Center for Data Analysis): To me it's pretty obvious that's what they're going after, even though they don't want to say the words because I guess they've done polling that shows, you know, it doesn't help their cause.

SHOGREN: Mark Mellman is a Democratic pollster who concentrates on environmental issues. He says the president is right to focus on jobs instead of environmental benefits.

Mr. MARK MELLMAN (President and Chief Executive Officer, The Mellman Group): It's smart communication and it's smart politics. It's smart communication because putting this issue in the framework of jobs, where it properly belongs, responds to what is the number one concern of the American public. And it's smart politically because it's much more likely to get attention from Congress if it's framed in terms of jobs than if it is framed in any other way.

SHOGREN: Other efforts by the Obama administration to fight climate change are getting lots of attention from the new Congress. Republicans are pushing bills to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases.

Cory Gardner is a new Republican member of Congress from Colorado. He wants to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. But he's interested in the president's clean electricity standard, because it includes natural gas, nuclear power, and clean coal.

Representative CORY GARDNER (Republican, Colorado): I'm excited that he is willing to have that conversation and look forward to working with the administration and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advance an energy policy for this country that really does put more energy on the table instead of taking energy off the table.

SHOGREN: But using a broad definition of clean power creates other problems. Environmental groups are vowing to fight the president's electricity standard if it promotes coal and nuclear power.

Elizabeth Shogren. NPR News. Washington.

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