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Obama finally talks climate change; green industry wants more

ElectionsConservationBarack ObamaEcosystems

In celebrating his reelection Tuesday night, President Obama finally touched on a topic that he and Republican rival Mitt Romney rarely broached during the campaign: Climate change.

During his acceptance speech, Obama make a strong play to win over the green sector, ranking environmental action high up on his priority list.

“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet,” he said, adding that “freeing ourselves from foreign oil” would be a top challenge.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy – a destructive superstorm that many blamed on climate change – efforts to scale back reliance on fossil fuels and nurture the clean-energy industry suddenly surged to the forefront of the election.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed Obama last week, specifically citing the president’s inclination to curb climate change and boost eco-friendly companies. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo accused global warming skeptics of “denying reality.”

Even Ban Ki-Moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, said in a statement Wednesday that he “looks forward to continuing to work” with Obama on “tackling the challenges posed by climate change.”

In his first term, Obama’s administration raised fuel-economy standards for vehicles, increased restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants – namely coal – and backed stimulus funds for renewable energy companies.

During one presidential debate, Romney had accused Obama of funneling $90 billion into green energy firms, including to failed federal loan guarantee recipient Solyndra, when the money could have gone instead to bolstering the education system.

Green companies are pushing for more of the same.

“Clean energy emerged a big winner” in the election, declared Frances Beinecke, president of the NRDC Action Fund, the lobbying arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council. And in smaller elections in Massachusetts, Ohio, Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, New Mexico and more, “champions of clean air and public health” were elected to the Senate, she said.

Now, Obama needs to work with Congress to renew clean-energy tax incentives and implement funding for federal agencies that work with the green-tech sector, said Lisa Jacobson, president of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

"Tax policy has been effective in encouraging private sector investment, reducing costs to consumers and industry, spurring technological innovation and enhancing the viability and deployment of a portfolio of clean-energy options," she said in a statement.

The president should also push for an investment tax credit for offshore wind projects and more discretionary spending to support innovation, a strategy that would create “millions of new clean economy jobs,” said David Foster, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance.  

“We cannot cut our way to prosperity,” Foster said in a statement.

Whatever happens, it’ll likely come after a struggle. This week, reality television star and business mogul Donald Trump tweeted a series of challenges to climate change, calling it “nonexistent.”

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” Trump wrote.

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