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Obama touts "clean" energy, skips climate change

President Obama heartened environmentalists when he set a new national goal last night of Americans getting 80 percent of their electricity from "clean energy" by 2035, but he then dismayed some by including nuclear power and coal in his definition of what's clean. 

And interestingly, Obama didn't even mention climate change as a reason to wean the country from its addiction to fossil fuels. Instead, government incentives to develop clean energy will yield "green" jobs and help America regain its technological edge in the world economy, he argued.

"Some folks want wind and solar," he said during his State of the Union address to Congress. "Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all -- and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen."

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A bevy of environmental groups praised the president's speech afterward, reiterating his argument that government incentives to develop renewable energy could generate needed jobs.  They also applauded his vow to end federal tax breaks for the oil industry.

"A true clean energy standard will foster more renewable electricity and energy efficiency and encourage us to leave behind old, dirty technologies we've proppsed up for too long already," Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote in her blog.

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But others voiced their displeasure at Obama's insistence that nuclear and coal are part of the nation's energy future.

"Coal, nuclear power, biofuels and natural gas are inherently dirty," said Erich Pica, president of the Friends of the Earth. "Telling Americans anything else is misleading."

Conservatives, meanwhile, disparaged the president's pledge to promote clean energy as more government waste that'll only drive up energy prices and create jobs abroad.

Obama didn't bring up climate change this year, a switch from last year's State of the Union address.  Obama similarly emphasized clean energy then, but linked it with the need for the nation to address climate change and called for a comprehensive energy and climate bill to get passed.  The Senate failed to act, however, amid deep divisions over the issue, and intense lobbying from industry that had coal-state Democrats vowing to oppose it.

The president did defend environmental regulation last night as he spoke about plans to  eliminate burdensome government rules and red tape.

"It's why our food is safe to eat, our water is safe to drink, and our air is safe to breathe," Obama said.

Unmentioned again, though, is the move by his Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases as a way of combatting climate change - a move Republicans and some Democrats in Congress vow to block.

(President Obama delivering the State of the Union to a joint session of Congress, Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

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