It may be no coincidence that President Obama borrowed General Motors’ slogan “Built to last” when he previewed his State of the Union address for supporters in a video message last week.
In his third such speech to the nation on Tuesday night, Obama is expected to highlight his administration’s success and continued commitment to the clean-energy sector, especially the resurgent auto industry providing thousands of jobs to the economy and working with the administration on its ambitious fuel-economy standards.
“I’m going to lay out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last,” Obama said in the video message, which his reelection campaign sent out last week to supporters. “American manufacturing, with more good jobs and more products stamped with ‘Made in America.’ ”
Earlier this month General Motors, whose subsidiary GMC once used the slogan “built to last” for its trucks, reclaimed the title as the world’s top-selling automaker in 2011, a fact cherished by an administration that bailed out GM and Chrysler in 2009. Ford was also on the brink of bankruptcy then. All three companies are turning profits now and simultaneously working with the administration to implement fuel-economy standards that, by model year 2025, could reach 54 miles per gallon. Right now the average is 27 mpg and manufacturers are required to reach 35.5 mpg by 2016. General Motors alone says it has created almost 16,000 jobs in the past two years.
“If you’re looking for one example of a sector that is doing better than anyone imagined, it’s the auto sector," said Scott Paul, founding executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a partnership between the United Steelworkers union and leading U.S. manufacturers. “There is an important story to tell about the role the auto rescue is playing in that. Consumers have more and better choices, and there is a lot of cooperation on fuel-economy and building out the president’s vision of a more sustainable future.”
With Congress gridlocked over energy and environment policies (along with most other issues), the administration’s fuel-economy standards are, by default, one of Obama’s biggest energy and environment achievements to date.
Like the auto industry’s resurgence, Obama is likely to frame other energy and environment issues through an economic lens.
“I think that the president is going to reclaim the ‘all of the above’ vision,” Paul Bledsoe, senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center, told National Journal. By supporting and expanding domestic oil and gas production while investing in renewable energy sources like wind and solar, “we can walk and chew gum at the same time here,” Bledsoe said.
Obama is also likely to highlight what his administration has already done on energy and environment issues, including partnering with companies to develop biofuels. In his video to supporters last week, Obama noted that part of his economic blueprint will include “American energy fueled by homegrown and alternative energy sources.”
“There will be a full-throated catalog of the administration's action on domestic oil and gas, on shale gas, on vehicle fuel economy, on investment in oil alternatives, in clean electricity sources, support for nuclear energy,” Bledsoe said. “I really think you’re going to see a speech which tries to go on the offense on energy.”
Insiders are also expecting — or at least hoping — that Obama touts the Environmental Protection Agency’s first-ever mercury standards for power plants. In this vein, he would likely say that the rules are protecting children from mercury pollution, an oft-mentioned statement from his campaign and administration.
But Obama is unlikely to tout the clean-energy standard he made a cornerstone of his State of the Union speech last year.
“Though a CES remains on the President’s wish list, we have no indication that he plans to ‘ping back’ to that proposal tomorrow,” Bill Wicker, communications director for Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said in an e-mail to National Journal.
Bingaman has been working on a Clean Energy Standard proposal since last year’s State of the Union proposal, which called for 80 percent of America’s electricity to come from clean energy sources. Despite disagreements over the bill’s language with the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and others throughout the last year, Wicker assured that Bingaman hasn’t give up on the plan just yet. Bingaman “will introduce a bill and bring it before Senate Energy Committee in the coming months,” he said.
Wild cards for the speech include whether or not Obama will mention two politically explosive issues: his denial of the Keystone XL pipeline last week and Solyndra, the now-bankrupt solar company that received a $535 million federal loan guarantee.
“I suspect he’ll outline it [the Keystone denial] as an example of doing the right thing on environment and energy issues,” said David di Martino, a consultant on energy and environment issues.
Obama is unlikely to mention Solyndra by name, but, along the lines of American-produced manufacturing, experts say he could underscore the importance of ensuring America doesn’t cede the clean-energy race to China on wind, solar and vehicle technologies such as advanced batteries.
Experts say he also seems unlikely to mention climate-change regulations EPA is expected to announce as soon as this week.