Cleantech Crowd Cheers Obama's Inaugural Speech


After being ignored in the last two inaugural speeches, the issue of climate change got plenty of attention at U.S. President Barack Obama’s inauguration Tuesday. As an estimated 1.4 million watchers looked on in the mall alone, by far the largest attendance at an inaugural event, Obama said that “the ways in which we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet” and that the country cannot “consume the world’s resources without regard to effect.”

He promised to “restore science to its rightful place,” a move that likely will be seen as an admonition to the Bush administration, which had been accused of interfering with scientific work related to climate change (see stories here and here). He pledged to build electric grids, “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories” and work with other countries to “roll back the specter of a warming planet.”

The cleantech industry applauded the speech for underlining the new president’s commitment to the climate change fight.

“We’re certainly encouraged,” said Susan Preston, general partner for the California Clean Energy Fund’s angel fund. “It gives us an understanding of the priority [clean energy]’s been given, and it’s one that it’s never been given before.”

With the Obama administration’s focus on climate issues, Preston said she believes green technology will be one of the key factors to revitalizing the economy. She also said she understands that it will take time to craft new legislation to support clean technology and indicated her willingness to have patience, a good sign for an administration that has made hefty promises.

While Preston would, for example, like to see a federal renewable portfolio standard as soon as possible, she said it would likely take some time to put together and doesn’t expect it to happen in the first quarter.

She added that a carbon cap-and-trade program might happen first. “In listening to the conversations in Congress, there’s a lot of difference in opinion, but there’s absolutely no question in my mind that Obama is fully and utterly committed to having a federal renewable portfolio standard and considers it one of his highest priorities,” she said.

Gary Mull, V-P of marketing at Akeena Solar, called the event “amazing” and said Obama’s ability to stir the crowd and offer hope to the nation was “very impressive.” Aside from Obama’s direct references to the environment and clean technology, Mull said that his call to the nation for service and his reminder that everyone has a duty to work to address the nation’s challenges was relevant to addressing climate change.

Mull also referred to the new presidential limousine — a Cadillac hybrid — as another sign of Obama’s commitment to the cause. The car choice “is a statement of his out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new message,” he said. “He’s leading by example. We’re off to a great start.”

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