Pres. Obama in a televised address to a joint session of Congress last night told lawmakers—and the nation—that his three top priorities are energy, health care and education. First and foremost on his list: seeking renewable power sources and reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
"We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before," he said, harking back to a time when former Pres. Carter wore sweaters in the White House to promote conservation only to be followed by former Pres. Reagan, who had solar photovoltaic panels taken off the rooftop of the White House and eliminated most research and development funding into alternative energy sources.
Obama argued that kicking our foreign oil "addiction," as ex-Pres. Bush called it, and reining in the greenhouse gas emissions behind climate change, is the only way to ensure that the 21st century will be "another American century."
Although solar photovoltaics were invented in the U.S., the country now lags behind Germany and Japan in utilizing and manufacturing the alternative electricity source. And even when alternative energy sources are employed in this country, such as in GM's Chevy Volt—a plug-in hybrid designed to save energy, the environment and automakers —the batteries at the core of the car are made in other countries, like the lithium ion cells produced by LG Chem in South Korea.
The $787 billion stimulus package that Obama recently signed into law will pump $15 billion into development of alternative energy sources—both in the lab and the field—as well as into new transmission lines to carry, for example, wind energy from the Great Plains to the cities to the east, west and south, according to the president. He also called for a cap-and-trade program—in which the government sets an overall limit or cap on on pollution and power plants are able to sell and buy the right to emit up to a set level of carbone dioxide and other greenhouse gases—to make such alternative energy sources more profitable than conventional technology, such as burning fossil fuels (though the president also mentioned "clean coal.")
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, delivering the Republican response to the Democratic president's address, decried the $300 million set aside in the stimulus measure for a new, fuel-efficient fleet of government cars, but he agreed with the push for alternative and renewable fuels as well as energy efficiency and conservation—efforts that former vice president Dick Cheney had derided as merely "personal virtues." He also called for increased oil and gas drilling in the U.S. and new nuclear power plants to minimize U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources. for oil and gas in the U.S. "If we unleash the innovative spirit of our citizens," said Jindal, who is said to be mulling a run against Obama in four years, "we can achieve energy independence."
Jindal also denounced forking over $8 billion for high-speed trains, potentially including one that would run from Los Angeles to Las Vegas employing "magnetic levitation" technology. But most of the $8 billion will likely go to improving mass transit and connecting so-called megalopolises such as New York and Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco, or even the major cities in Ohio with trains that can compete with flights as a fast, convenient—and far less energy-gobbling and polluting—forms of travel.
France, Germany, Japan and China have taken the lead in producing such next-generation train technology, like the so-called maglev train that connects Shanghai's airport to downtown.
"I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders," Obama said. "It is time for America to lead again."