Energy policy point of emphasis in Obama's last State of the Union

Barack Obama

With election season looming later this year, President Barack Obama delivered what was his final State of the Union Address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress yesterday evening.

“Tonight marks the eighth year I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union, and for this final one, I’m going to try to make it shorter,” the President quipped.

The annual address was far from a kickoff for the visibly more relaxed Chief of State’s victory lap, however, and though Obama was not nearly so detailed in describing his plans for America’s future as in past years, the President made it clear that his successor still has significant work to do in implementing his administration’s sweeping visions.

Chief amongst these is the development of the “all-of-the-above” energy plan, which, since its unveiling during the 2012 State of the Union Address, has become one of several defining legacies Obama hopes to leave.

The plan calls for a massive overhaul of the United States’ power generating fleet using a combination of renewable energy sources – including hydroelectric power – that has already manifested itself in the form of the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013 and the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower and Rural Jobs Act – both of which received overwhelming bipartisan support and open the door for streamlined small hydro development.

Subsequent legislation, including the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 and House Resolution 8, amongst others, look to further expedite hydro project timelines, while Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan look to reduce the nation’s carbon emissions by more than 30% from 2005 levels by 2030.

“We’ve got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy,” Obama said. “Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future – especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels. … That way, we put money back into those communities and put tens of thousands of Americans to work.

“None of this will happen overnight, and yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo. But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save and the planet we’ll preserve – that’s the kind of future our kids and grandkids deserve.”

Most recently, Obama and other world leaders brought clean to the international forefront with the adoption of the Paris Climate Accord during the National Conference of Parties, in which the U.S. and nearly 200 other countries established long-term ecological and economic targets for CO2 reduction.

“Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it,” Obama said during last night’s State of the Union. “You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and we intend to solve it.

“But even if the planet wasn’t at stake – even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record until 2015 turned out even hotter – why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?”

Both recent and pending legislation, along with what the Presidential transition might mean for the hydro industry will be key topics of discussion at the National Hydropower Association's upcoming Waterpower Week in Washington.

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