Obama: U.S. needs to lead clean-energy race

In a speech at MIT, the U.S. president calls for passage of an energy-and-climate bill, saying innovation in energy will bring both environmental and economic benefits.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--President Barack Obama on Friday called on the U.S. Congress to pass energy-and-climate legislation, a move he said would stimulate technology innovation and improve the economic competitiveness of the United States.

Obama delivered a speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology here after touring student laboratories and before attending a fund-raiser for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

President Obama speaking on clean energy at MIT on Friday. Martin LaMonica/CNET

A "comprehensive" energy-and-climate bill will address both environmental and economic problems, Obama said. Countries around the world recognize that energy supplies are limited while demand is rising. That situation is giving rise to a "peaceful competition" among countries to develop clean-energy technologies that "will propel the 21st century."

"There are going to be all sorts of debate both in (the) laboratory and on Capital Hill, but there is no question that we have to do these things," he said. "The nation that wins that competition will be the nation to lead the global economy. I'm convinced of that, and I want America to be that nation."

Obama urged Congress to pass an energy-and-climate bill the Senate is now considering, the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act. He specifically praised the bill co-sponsor Democratic Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who was present at the talk, and Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham. The senators co-wrote an editorial in the New York Times earlier this month outlining the main components of a desired bill, which was seen as a key step toward passage.

The House bill, which narrowly passed in May, includes a national mandate for utilities to use renewable energy and a cap-and-trade system in which large polluters can buy and sell permits for carbon dioxide emissions.

The president did not weigh into the details of the existing bills, but he did outline the contours of an energy policy that reduces the country's reliance on fossil fuels while making better use of natural resources.

The ingredients of energy policy should include clean use of coal, oil, and natural gas; "safe nuclear power;" sustainably grown biofuels; and energy from wind, solar, and wave power, Obama said.

"It is a transformation that will be made as swiftly and carefully as possible, to ensure we are doing everything we can to grow this economy in the short, medium, and long term. And I do believe that a consensus is growing to achieve exactly that," he said.

Obama said the Pentagon and energy security hawks are stepping up efforts to reduce oil imports while businesses and environmentalists are working together. Young people, too, view energy-and-climate as the challenge of their generation, he added.

"We are seeing a convergence. The naysayers, the folks (who) would pretend this is not an issue--they are being marginalized," Obama said.

He said key pieces of the Senate bill have been approved in various committees but he warned that opposition to passing an energy-and-climate bill will increase as passage gets closer.

There were about 700 people at the MIT talk, including a number of local green-technology entrepreneurs, investors, and students at the university, which has become a hotbed for energy science and technology research.

 

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