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January 26, 2011 

State of the Union Points Way Toward Progress on Vehicles, Energy

WASHINGTON (January 26, 2011) – The clean energy and vehicle goals President Obama announced last night during his State of the Union address should prompt his administration and Congress to adopt achievable, affordable policies that strengthen the economy, experts at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) said today. New policy initiatives, they said, should emphasize energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, end subsidies for highly profitable polluting industries, and preserve public health protections.

“It’s telling that President Obama tied scientific, economic and environmental progress so tightly together and so early in his speech,” said UCS President Kevin Knobloch. “This is clearly a White House priority. Now, the president should use his leverage to ensure that government initiatives generate jobs by investing in truly clean technologies and weaning us off 19th century fossil fuel technologies. Although the president didn’t mention climate change in his speech as he did last year, we hope the White House will find more opportunities to highlight the fundamental choice we face between a low- and high-emissions future.”

“The president also needs to make clear that the government should not allow fossil fuel industries to force Americans to choose between jobs and their health,” Knobloch added. “If we invest in 21st-century clean energy and vehicle technology and keep critical public health safeguards intact, we can have cleaner air and greater prosperity.”

Last night, President Obama called for the United States to produce 80 percent of its electricity from “clean” energy sources by 2035. A White House fact sheet estimates that current U.S. “clean energy” use stands at 40 percent. That figure is based on output from renewable energy sources and other low-carbon energy sources such as nuclear power, and also includes a partial credit for natural gas. According to a 2009 UCS Clean Energy Blueprint, doubling this target to 80 percent could be achieved primarily with new investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy, which would dramatically reduce the need to burn coal and save consumers billions of dollars annually on their energy bills.

Ramping up national reliance on renewable energy sources, including wind, solar and biomass, also would generate new employment opportunities. Another 2009 UCS analysis on clean energy development and jobs found that producing 25 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025, for example, would create hundreds of thousands of new jobs—three times as many jobs as producing an equivalent amount of electricity from fossil fuels.

These two UCS analyses show that implementing strong renewable electricity and energy efficiency standards is a smart, cost-effective way to reach the President Obama’s 80 percent by 2035 goal.

The president also called for 1 million “electric” vehicles on the road by 2015, shorthand for what the White House fact sheet calls “advanced technology vehicles.” According to UCS, three types of vehicles should be considered “advanced”: battery-electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf, plug-in hybrids such as the Chevy Volt, and fuel-cell electric vehicles such as the Honda Clarity.

President Obama’s goal for advanced tech vehicles is quite aggressive, according to UCS. To meet it, Congress will have to provide additional resources, including support for manufacturing and investments in electric vehicle infrastructure.

During the speech, the president pointed toward biofuels as a way to reduce our oil dependence. Similarly, the White House fact sheet also notes that the Obama administration is working on a new clean car standard that would go a long way to cut oil use. According to recent joint Department of Transportation-Environmental Protection Agency analysis of potential fuel efficiency levels, a new federal fleetwide standard could require average fuel economy of more than 60 miles per gallon by 2025. Such a standard would save consumers $5,700 to $7,400 over the life of their vehicles after accounting for the cost of new fuel-saving technology. Just yesterday, DOT and EPA issued a joint agreement with the California Air Resources Board to simultaneously propose, in September, respective federal and state standards for fuel efficiency and vehicle global warming emissions.

 

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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