President Obama affirmed his commitment to solar energy in a speech on Monday, at which he called out the billionaire Koch Brothers for their opposition to sustainable energy and for preventing the growth of jobs in the clean energy sector. “They’re trying to undermine competition in the marketplace and choke off consumer choice and threaten an industry that’s turning out new jobs at a fast pace.”
Obama gave the speech at an energy summit in Las Vegas, which was hosted by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). He exposed the fact that fossil fuel robber barons and lobbyists like Charles G. and David H. Koch are doing everything in their power to fight progress in this country and continue to put the environment at risk.
When you start seeing massive lobbying efforts backed by fossil fuel interests, or conservative think tanks, or the Koch brothers pushing for new laws to roll back renewable energy standards, or to prevent new clean energy businesses from succeeding, that’s a problem. That’s not the American way. That’s not progress. That’s not innovation. That’s rent seeking. That’s standing in the way of progress.
In addition to providing a source of clean energy, solar power is a rapidly expanding industry with the potential to create tens of thousands of new jobs. As President Obama noted in his speech: “Solar has helped a lot of construction workers find work, while Congress was dragging its feet on funding infrastructure projects. Now is not the time to pull back on those investments.”
The Koch brothers are two of the wealthiest men in the country, in charge of Koch Industries, a giant corporation with a long history in fossil fuels. They have used their sizeable fortune to gain considerable political influence. According to Greenpeace, the Koch brothers have sent about $80 million throughout their network of over seventy different groups to promote climate change denial. Their war against accepted science, the economy, and the environment serves only to increase their own profits, and in fact goes against the principles of free market that they claim to cherish so dearly. “It’s one thing if you’re consistent in being free market,” said Obama. “It’s another thing when you’re free market until it’s solar that’s working and people want to buy and suddenly you’re not for it anymore. That’s a problem.”
As President Obama points out in his speech, converting to solar power is not simply a matter of being “green.” Companies such as Google and Costco are adopting solar power simply because it’s good for business. “They’re not doing this out of altruism. They’re doing this because it means big cost savings. The private sector is increasingly all in. I’m all for consumers saving money. Solar isn’t just for the green crowd anymore. It’s for the green eye-shade crowd, too.”
The president accused congressional Republican opponents of standing in the way of an energy agenda that has wide bipartisan support, even gaining Obama some “strange bedfellows”: “In some states we’ve got the Green Party and the Tea Party teaming up to protect our freedom to choose clean energy. It is rare that the tea party leaders and I are on the same side of an issue.” That must be because it is also the side of job growth, national security, the scientific community, and basic common sense, none of which are the Tea Party’s strong points.
Obama also presented a series of executive actions that will promote the use of clean energy, including an additional $1 billion in loans to energy development projects, and a program to educate homeowners about energy efficiency. Earlier this month, Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, an ambitious proposal which seeks to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by over 30 percent by 2030.
Although Obama’s speech made clear the urgency of addressing climate change, he also expressed optimism that the problem could be addressed, despite the best efforts of climate change deniers like the Koch brothers. “I’m here to give you hope, but not complacency.” As new evidence indicating the release of methane that was previously locked under the ice caps threatens to snowball the rate of warming and El Nino about to wreak havoc all over the West Coast, it remains clearer than ever that we MUST act now before it is too late.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.