Obama (Finally) Enters Climate Debate

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 4:36 PM EDT

Barack Obama on Friday gave a speech long-anticipated by advocates for climate legislation, calling for a bipartisan effort to pass legislation that will limit emissions and help transition to a new energy economy.

While the speech put some momentum behind the issue as the Senate committee dealing with the legislation prepares to begin hearings next week, it was scant on specific directives. It did, however, position the legislation as an economic and security imperative.

"There are those who will suggest that moving toward clean energy will destroy our economy—when it's the system we currently have that endangers our prosperity and prevents us from creating millions of new jobs," said Obama, addressing a crowd at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It seems this is going to be the first of several Obama speeches on the subject. According to a press scheduled released Friday afternoon, Obama will travel to the DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Arcadia, Florida on Tuesday for a second speech. That speech falls on the day that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will kick off legislative hearings on the Kerry-Boxer bill, with a panel featuring a number of administration officials.

This level of attention is something that advocates have long been hoping for from the president, who has thus far focused much of his public speaking on health care. While he did make a big (and rather unimpressive) speech at the UN last month, today's speech was the first aimed at a domestic audience solely on the topic of climate and energy.

In his speech on Friday, Obama praised Senate climate bill sponsor John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the lone Republican who has signaled he is willing to cooperate on the bill. "This should not be a partisan issue," said Obama. "Everybody in America should have a stake in legislation that can transform our energy system into one that's far more efficient, far cleaner, and provide energy independence for America."

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"I do believe that a consensus is growing to achieve exactly that," he continued. Yet he also warned that it would be a tough fight.

"The naysayers, the folks who would pretend that this is not an issue, they are being marginalized," he said. "But I think it's important to understand that the closer we get, the harder the opposition will fight and the more we'll hear from those whose interest or ideology run counter to the much needed action that we're engaged in."

He also dismissed climate change skeptics (who apparently make up an alarmingly large slice of the American public). "There are going to be those who make cynical claims that contradict the overwhelming scientific evidence when it comes to climate change, claims whose only purpose is to defeat or delay the change that we know is necessary," he said.

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