This speech, while overdue, is an important challenge to America: if we harness our collective ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit we can turn a potential crisis into opportunity. It is a very positive step.
In his speech, President Obama affirmed what VNRC and many, many people across the country have been saying for years: we need to aggressively reduce global warming pollution through energy efficiency, conservation and the adoption of low-carbon renewable energy. It was noteworthy that the president strongly denied the climate deniers, sweeping aside the contention that global warming is not caused by human activity.
President Obama also seemed to suggest that North America should bypass the production of tar sands oil in favor of 21st century, clean energy sources, saying his administration would approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline - a key outlet for climate-killing tar sands production - only if it doesn't exacerbate the climate problem. Greater reliance on tar sands oil would be, as NASA scientist James Hansen has said, "game over for the planet." The president's remarks on Keystone strike close to home in Vermont.
His position strongly suggests that federal regulators would not allow the use of an existing crude oil pipeline - which runs from Portland to Montreal through the Northeast Kingdom - to carry tar sands oil, given the direct link between burning extracting, processing and burning tar sands oil and a hotter, more unstable atmosphere.
President Obama also said energy efficiency and conservation are essential for combating global warming. Vermont was the birthplace of Efficiency Vermont, the nation's first energy efficiency utility.
As a result, the state has been a leader in electric energy efficiency. This coming year the legislature will, we hope, build on this accomplishment and enact a strong, well-funded program to help Vermonters tighten up their drafty homes. Such a program could save the average homeowner $1,000 a year in reduced heating bills, while slashing one of Vermont's bigger sources of greenhouse gases and creating new jobs.
Vermont must continue recent progress made on renewable energy, especially the distributed, community- scaled energy projects that are transforming places like Waterbury and Rutland, and reconsider expensive, 20th century energy solutions, such as the extension of the Vermont Gas pipeline, that only reinforce our dependence on fossil fuels.
The president also recognizes that we need to adapt to changes already underway. In Vermont that means we need to keep up our natural defenses against the ravages of climate change. Our forests must remain intact and healthy, our downtowns resilient and our neighborhoods accessible for walkers, bicyclists and public transit. Our farmland needs to be able to produce food, and we've got to keep our drinking water plentiful and clean.
You can feel both the urgency and the optimism the president expressed in his speech in Vermont's town halls, granges, churches and school cafeterias.
It's in these community centers where Vermonters, many of whom are members of the 100 and growing local energy committees, are working to reduce energy use and cut climate change pollution in their own towns.
President Obama has called on Americans to raise their voices in support of his agenda. We've got to keep up the volume, so to speak, in our hometowns, at the state level, and even nationally. We all share a responsibility to create a healthy, economically strong, and safe future for our kids and grandkids.
Let's work with the President to do just that.
Jake Brown is the communications/government affairs director for the Vermont Natural Resources Council.