Our Energy Future in the State of the Union

February 13, 2013

David Monsma is executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Energy and Environment Program.

In the State of the Union last night, President Obama underscored the importance of investments in American energy and repeated the pledge made in his second inaugural address that combatting climate change will be a major goal for his second term. In so doing, the president has tried to define a path forward amid great and often contentious uncertainty. In order to go “all-in” on clean energy and lead the clean-energy market, we need straightforward goals, like cutting the amount of energy wasted by our homes and businesses in half over the next 20 years.

As is sometimes the case in any speech, much was left unsaid by the president. Though implicit in the president’s address, the meaning of an “all of the above” energy plan is still murky, especially with regards to details about protecting water and air quality in oil and gas development on public lands and elsewhere. President Obama offered discourse on transitioning “to more sustainable sources of energy.” Equally in need of a thorough discussion before any trade-offs can be made and effective action taken is his proposed idea of creating an Energy Security Trust. The goal of such a trust would be to redirect some of the royalty revenues that the government collects from drilling on public lands toward renewable energy sources and alternative fuels. Civil society policy dialogues, such as those of the Aspen Institute, can and will be a critical part of the process of weighing the costs and benefits.


In his speech last night, President Obama mentioned climate change three times as well as “dangerous carbon pollution” and called for going “all-in on clean energy,” as compared with just one mention of climate in his 2012 SOTU, and no mention in 2011. Even though a great many details remain to be defined, the president resolutely signaled the need for a new dialogue on how to address climate change forthrightly while simultaneously leading a clean energy market revolution. We look forward to the many important debates we expect to ensue.