Updated: Suggesting that the U.S. could make fighting climate change a priority in his second term, President Barack Obama called out “the threat of climate change” and the need for a “transition” to “sustainable energy sources” during his speech at the 57th Presidential Inauguration. Obama said:
“… America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries — we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure. . . “
Obama used his first term to provide an unprecedented amount of resources for clean energy projects and companies through the stimulus package, but some of the Department of Energy’s loans and grants went to energy companies that struggled or went bankrupt. Examples include the now infamous solar maker Solyndra, battery maker A123 Systems, solar company Abound Solar and electric car maker Fisker Automotive.
As a result, clean energy became highly politicized and the Energy Department’s support was criticized by House Republicans. Many of Obama’s original “Green Dream Team” are leaving, including reportedly the Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
Obama was also criticized by Democrats for not being aggressive enough on climate change-targeted policies in his first term. He seemed to stop using the term in prominent speeches in recent months, and abandoned a carbon cap-and-trade policy early on in his first term.
The President’s direct mention of climate change and sustainable energy sources in his inauguration on Monday morning came as a surprise to many in the clean energy sector. Obama’s definition of clean energy sources — which he called “sustainable energy sources” in his speech — includes natural gas, clean coal and nuclear, as well as renewable energy like solar, and wind power.
Updated with reactions from the clean power sector:
Rhone Resch, president and CEO of Solar Energy Industries Association: “We praise the President for emphasizing that a transition to sustainable energy sources is vital – and that the U.S. must lead it. . . Over the next four years, solar will grow to be the largest new source or energy, and employ more than a quarter million Americans.”