Clinton's State of the Union Envisions Greener Future

WASHINGTON, DC, January 28, 2000 (ENS) - President Bill Clinton's last State of the Union Address, delivered Thursday night to a Joint Session of Congress, contained no new proposals for environmental protection, but the President did propose a range of tax incentives for conservation and green energy.

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President Bill Clinton (Photos by Barbara Kinney courtesy the White House)
Clinton reiterated a point he has made many times - that we are no longer in the Industrial Age when burning fossil fuels was the only route to wealth. Instead, the President said, wealth can be achieved today with new more efficient and renewable energy sources.

"I propose giving major tax incentives to businesses for the production of clean energy - and to families for buying energy-saving homes and appliances and the next generation of super-efficient cars when they hit the showroom floor," Clinton said. "I also call on the auto industry to use available technologies to make all new cars more fuel efficient right away. And on Congress to make more of our clean-energy technologies available to the developing world - creating cleaner growth abroad and new jobs at home."

President Clinton played his well-known environmental themes to an enthusiastic group on the Democratic side of the House and a cool response from the Republican side.

He linked increased globalization of free trade with environmental protection, not destruction. "Those of us who believe passionately in the power of open trade must ensure that it lifts both our living standards and our values, never tolerating abusive child labor or a race to the bottom on the environment and worker protection. Still, open markets and rules-based trade are the best engines we know for raising living standards, reducing global poverty and environmental destruction, and assuring the free flow of ideas," he said.

The President got his only laugh of the night during the environmental part of his address as he was about to propose new funding for advanced transit systems. "Last year, the Vice President launched a new effort to help make communities more liberal," he said, instead of saying "more livable," as he had intended. Laughter rolled through the House then, and again, when Clinton slipped again - once more saying "liberal" for livable.

"Liberal" is a label the Republicans have frequently pinned on the Democrats, especially President Clinton, and they do not mean it as a compliment.

Among the accomplishments of his administration, Clinton cited expansion of the economy while protecting the environment. "As our economy has grown, we have rid more than 500 neighborhoods of toxic waste and ensured cleaner air and water for millions of families. In the past three months alone, we have acted to preserve more than 40 million acres of roadless lands in our National Forests and created three new National Monuments," he said.

The President repeated his proposal from last year for a permanent conservation fund "to restore wildlife, protect coastlines, and save natural treasures from California redwoods to the Everglades. This Lands Legacy endowment represents by far the most enduring investment in land preservation ever proposed."

"The greatest environmental challenge of the new century is global warming. Scientists tell us that the 1990s were the hottest decade of the entire millennium. If we fail to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, deadly heat waves and droughts will become more frequent, coastal areas will be flooded, economies disrupted."

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President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore (behind the President left), Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert
Clinton believes that advances in technology will make it possible to cut emissions responsible for global warming while providing even more economic growth. "Just last week," he said, "automakers unveiled cars that get 70 to 80 miles a gallon - the fruits of a unique research partnership between government and industry. Before you know it, efficient production of biofuels will give us the equivalent of hundreds of miles from a gallon of gas."

The President proposed greatly increased funding for biomass sourced energy through tax incentives. "We must work together to strengthen the farm safety net, invest in land conservation, and create new markets by expanding our program for bio-based fuels and products," Clinton said.

Clinton's FY 2001 Budget, which will be formally introduced February 7, includes $976 million in tax incentives over five years and $2.1 billion over ten years to accelerate the development and use of bio-based technologies, which convert crops, trees, and other biomass into a vast array of fuels and products.

These tax credits support the President's August 1999 Executive Order aimed at tripling U.S. use of biobased products and bioenergy by 2010. "This initiative will increase the viability of alternative energy sources, help meet environmental challenges like global warming, support farm incomes, and diversify and strengthen the rural economy," Clinton said.

"Tripling our use of bioenergy and bioproducts by 2010 will reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by up to 100 million tons - the equivalent of taking over 70 million cars off the road," Clinton said in a statement prior to the State of the Union Address.

The Republican response to the State of the Union Address did not mention energy sources at all. Dr. Bill Frist of Tennessee and Susan Collins of Maine instead emphasized their party's education and health care proposals.

Environmentalists have some problems with President Clinton's biomass energy plan. American Lands, a Washington, DC based environmental coalition headed by former Indiana Democratic Congressman Jim Jontz, stated Thursday, "At present, tens of millions of tons of trees are burned every year for energy production. The administration's request to triple the use of bio-fuels will mean more native forests being cut for fuel."

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President Clinton addresses a Joint Session of Congress on the State of the Union
"A 25 megawatt biomass power plant needs 275,000 tons of fuel a year - about the same consumption as a small chip mill. Once the plant is built it must be fed," American Lands pointed out. "Agricultural wastes and leftover woody materials cannot meet this demand."

A further concern is the involvement of Monsanto and others to develop genetically modified tree species for biomass, the coalition said.

The President's plan to preserve 40 million acres of roadless areas in National Forests, heavily criticized by Republicans and just briefly mentioned in the State of the Union Address won praise from Ken Rait, director of the Heritage Forests Campaign. "With more than half our National Forest system already damaged by roads, clearcuts, mining and other destructive activities, the president has put forth a balanced, reasonable and responsible plan to protect what's left for future generations. With the successful completion of this forest protection initiative, President Clinton will secure his place in history alongside Theodore Roosevelt as one of the great conservation presidents," Rait said late Thursday night.

William Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society, had praise for the President's conservation efforts. "As we mark the beginning of the 21st century, President Clinton has begun to address the many threats - pollution, development, sprawl, off-road vehicles, loss of natural sound, logging, overgrazing, and mining - that have contributed to the demise of our wildlands."

Myron Ebell, director of global warming policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, did not buy President Clinton's statements about addressing the threat of global warming, calling them, "little more than hot air." The president's proposals may give Vice President Gore's campaign a boost, he said, but they will go nowhere in the Congress.

Ebell cited a recent study by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers showing that "the technology needed to meet Kyoto's targets at little cost is not available at this time and would require significant costs to develop."

David Riggs, director of land and natural resource policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute sees the President's conservation proposals as "more centralized federal control over local land use issues," a standard Republican reaction.