Amidst the domestic economic conditions and trepidation of war with Iraq, the President did find room in the January 28 State of the Union Address to discuss some environmental initiatives. The following briefly summarizes key excerpts regarding the environmental issues from the President's speech and describes some of the latest actions.
"I have sent you [Congress] a comprehensive energy plan to promote energy efficiency and conservation, to develop cleaner technology, and to produce more energy at home."
There are no indications that the typical, yet longstanding, debate over energy will subside. Those who believe in sustainable energy sources would like to see greater attention on conservation and disagree with President Bush's short-term energy plan that relies heavily on nonrenewable sources. However, within the same week of the State of Union Address, the President announced through the Secretary of Energy, Spencer Abraham that the U.S. will join the negotiations for the construction and operation of a major international magnetic fusion research project. "This international fusion project is a major step towards a fusion demonstration power plant that could usher in commercial fusion energy," Secretary Abraham said. "This initiative also provides a cost-effective way to proceed with fusion research worldwide with the collaborating parties sharing in the project's cost of construction and operation." The Bush Administration believes that fusion is a key element for a long-term energy solution because it offers the potential for plentiful, safe and environmentally benign energy.
Furthermore, the 2004 energy department budget request of $23.4 billion reflects the President's energy commitments with an increase of nearly 25% when compared to the last budget presented by the previous administration in fiscal year 2001. The priorities appear to address immediate concerns, which are projecting a shortfall in energy production by utilizing existing technologies, such as coal-fired and nuclear plants, while supporting more environmentally sustainable options for the future.
"I have sent you [Congress] Clear Skies legislation that mandates a 70% cut in air pollution from power plants over the next 15 years."
Proponents of the legislation are likely to affirm that Clear Skies is the most aggressive air pollution control legislation ever presented. It will be heralded as economically and environmentally responsible while providing flexibility for innovation and technological improvements while utilizing market-based emission trading as the backbone for pollution reduction. Opponents will blast Clear Skies as irresponsible and incapable of improving the quality of the air and possibly resulting in dirtier air. Furthermore, because the legislation does not address carbon dioxide, a key precursor to global warming, the international community is likely to side with the opponents of Clear Skies. This initiative will continue to be intensely debated, especially when many believe the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, which became law during his father's term, are capable of achieving as good or better pollution reduction outcomes.
"I have sent you [Congress] a Healthy Forests Initiative to help prevent the catastrophic fires that devastate communities, kill wildlife, and burn away millions of acres of treasured forest."
In August 2002, the President proposed the Healthy Forests Initiative, and directed federal agencies to develop several administrative and legislative tools to restore these ecosystems to healthy, natural conditions and assist in executing core components of the National Fire Plan. The origin of this debate can be traced to a basic ideological argument between ecologists who believe that fires and restoration should be allowed to occur naturally and those that believe human intervention is necessary. It's important to note that the President's plan was developed in collaboration among federal agencies, certain governors, state foresters, tribal officials, industry and environmental groups.
"Tonight I'm proposing $1.2 billion in research funding so that America can lead the world in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles."
This statement addresses two key programs of the Bush Administration. The first is the Freedom Fuel Initiative that is designed to focus on technologies needed to produce, store and distribute hydrogen used in fuel cells. This program supports the Freedom Car Initiative, which focuses on technologies to produce the fuel cell vehicles. The goal is to have affordable hydrogen fuel cell cars available by 2020 and the infrastructure to support them. There will be naysayers to this initiative, and right now they are justified, but without skeptics it would be hard to know the dreamers--and dreamers do things like find cures for diseases, land on the moon, and build pollution-free cars.