7 Issues President Obama Should Mention in State of the Union
In his State of the Union speech next Tuesday night, President Obama is expected to focus heavily on challenges like economic inequality and international terrorism. But he is also likely to address at least some of the issues that Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) works on directly, such as climate change and energy. Here’s a quick take on what he may say on these issues, as well as some things he should say, but probably won’t.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Moving ahead on climate change
In last year’s State of the Union, the president dismissed those who question the reality of the climate threat. “The debate is settled,” he said. “Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.” Since then, the president and his team have been moving full steam ahead on his Climate Action Plan, with the latest element, on methane emissions in the oil and gas sector, unveiled earlier this week. The centerpiece of the plan, though, remains the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed standards on the amount of carbon pollution that the nation’s power plants are allowed to dump into the air, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will do “any and everything I can to block.” Expect the president to reiterate the economic, environmental, and security benefits of his domestic climate initiatives; while he won’t persuade Sen. McConnell or other Congressional opponents to change their stance, he knows that the public—including a majority of Republicans—support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant.
President Obama is also likely to underscore the need for U.S. leadership on climate on the global stage, building on his forceful speech at last September’s climate summit at the United Nations, and his joint announcement with Chinese President Xi Jinping in November, where China committed to cap its total carbon emissions by 2030, if not earlier. It will take global collaboration on an unprecedented level for humanity to come to grips with the climate crisis, and as the president has acknowledged, “as the world’s largest economy and second-largest carbon emitter, as a country with unsurpassed ability to drive innovation and scientific breakthroughs, as the country that people around the world continue to look to in times of crisis, we’ve got a vital role to play.”
Finally, climate-related impacts—including tidal flooding linked to sea level rise, forest die-back, wildfires, heatwaves, drought, health effects, and threats to iconic landmarks and to our electricity system—are increasingly affecting local communities across the country. Mayors, governors, and other local leaders are on the front lines of the real-world fight to avert the worst impacts of climate change; several of them served on President Obama’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, which presented its recommendations to the president last November. President Obama will likely refer to these impacts in his speech, and he should call on Congress to join him in ramping up federal assistance to state and local governments to prepare for and cope with the the consequences of climate change.
Clean vehicles and fuels: good progress, and more to come
The increasing fuel efficiency of our vehicle fleet is a major contributor to recent reductions in oil and gasoline prices; the president was part of a bipartisan group of Senators who helped pass historic legislation in 2007 that increased the federal corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for light-duty vehicles for the first time in 20 years, and he built on that success during his first term as president. In last year’s State of the Union address, the president committed to keep working to improve vehicle efficiency: “When we rescued our automakers," he said, “we worked with them to set higher fuel efficiency standards for our cars. In the coming months, I’ll build on that success by setting new standards for our trucks, so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump.” Those standards are expected out in March, and will be another major component of the comprehensive strategy that’s needed to cut our oil use in half through efficiency and innovation. By taking additional steps to cut oil use, we can reduce the problems oil causes our economy, our security, our environment and our climate.
Grounds for caution on natural gas
As he did last year, President Obama may refer to the nation’s expanding production and use of natural gas as a benefit to our economy and environment. It’s true that substituting natural gas for coal in electricity production can help reduce carbon pollution in the near-term, though we must make sure that fugitive methane emissions from gas production and use don’t overwhelm these carbon benefits. But ultimately, we need to virtually eliminate carbon pollution from all sources—including natural gas—if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. An overreliance on natural gas over the long-term won’t allow us to achieve the emissions reductions needed to address global warming, and could crowd out essential investments in renewable energy sources and improving energy efficiency. Also, when it comes to expanded oil and gas production, the federal government needs to take a much stronger role in protecting communities, and work with states to strengthen regulation and oversight of these industries. As UCS’s toolkit on fracking makes clear, too many communities are being pressed to make decisions on new production projects without access to comprehensive and reliable scientific information about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on their local air and water quality, community health, safety, economy, environment, and overall quality of life.
Protecting the government’s ability to protect us through science-based regulations
The new Congress is wasting no time in resuscitating bad ideas on “reforming” the federal regulatory process. While the White House issued a veto threat to the Regulatory Accountability Act passed by the House earlier this week, this is only the first in a likely onslaught of such bills. The president should make it crystal clear next Tuesday night that he will stand up to these efforts of special interests and their allies in Congress to undermine the ability of the federal government to protect the public health and safety.
Not so fast on trade deals
The President is almost certain to mention the trade pacts now being negotiated with theEuropean Union and with a set of key Asian countries, and may call on Congress to give him “fast track” authority to require only an up-or-down vote when he submits those agreements for approval. But there are mounting concerns amongst both public interest groups and members of Congress about the substance of these new agreements, as well as the lack of transparency in the negotiating process. It is crucial that these and other trade agreements are crafted to protect public health and safety and the environment, with standards based on the best available science. And these agreements must be negotiated in the sunlight, permitting the American public and law makers access to their details before they are concluded.
Needed: a National Food Policy
While the president is likely to once again refer to First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity, it’s unlikely he will address the disconnect between health and nutrition policies, on the one hand, and our national agricultural policy on the other. As UCS Food and Environment program director Ricardo Salvador and three colleagues put it in a recent Washington Post op-ed, “how we produce and consume food has a bigger impact on Americans’ well-being than any other human activity. The food industry is the largest sector of our economy; food touches everything from our health to the environment, climate change, economic inequality and the federal budget. Yet we have no food policy—no plan or agreed-upon principles— or managing American agriculture or the food system as a whole.” Pursuing such a shift in food and farm policies would require taking on some real sacred cows (pun intended), and given the president’s need to defend his environmental, health care, immigration, and financial reform accomplishments, it’s understandable, though unfortunate, that he will likely leave this issue to the next president to take on.
Increasing the safety of nuclear weapons
Less than three months after taking office, President Obama gave a stirring speech in Prague, where he said “I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” And in last year’s State of the Union address, he observed that “American diplomacy has rallied more than 50 countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles.” Locking down nuclear materials is an important achievement that UCS fully supports, but there are other steps the president can and should take to protect Americans, such as taking our missiles off dangerous high alert levels. This would also be a good signal to countries that are looking for signs that the U.S. and other nuclear weapons states are committed to reducing the nuclear threat, prior to the Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference this spring. The State of the Union address presents a great opportunity for President Obama to signal such an initiative, though there are no indications that he intends to do so.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
World Environment Day: A Time to Consider the Planet We’ll Return To, and Decide How to Care for It Going Forward
It's a different kind of World Environment Day this year. In prior years, it might have been enough to plant a tree, spend some extra time in the garden, or teach kids the importance of recycling. This year we have heavier tasks at hand. It's been months since we've been able to spend sufficient time outside, and as we lustfully watch the beauty of a new spring through our kitchen's glass windows, we have to decide how we'll interact with the natural world on our release, and how we can prevent, or be equipped to handle, future threats against our wellbeing.
Scuba divers around the world are holding their metaphorical breath to see if a coronavirus infection affects the ability to dive.
DAN medical experts explained the difference between normal lungs, on the left, and "very serious lungs caused by COVID-19," on the right. Matias Nochetto / Divers Alert Network (DAN)
- How the COVID-19 Coronavirus Attacks the Entire Body - EcoWatch ›
- What Does 'Recovered From Coronavirus' Mean? - EcoWatch ›
- Scuba Divers Make Face Masks out of Recycled Ocean Plastic ... ›
'Another Blow to the Black Community': Trump Waives Environmental Law That Gives Public a Voice in Infrastructure Projects
- Environmental Racism in Action: The Trump Administration's Plans ... ›
- 'Freeway Revolts' Helped Create the People's Environmental Law ›
- Environmental Negligence vs. Civil Rights: Black and Hispanic ... ›
- 15 EcoWatch Stories on Environmental and Racial Injustice ... ›
- In This Time of Crisis, We Need to Keep Our Eyes Open - EcoWatch ›
President Trump's claim that the U.S. has the cleanest air and water in the world has been widely refuted by statistics showing harmful levels of pollution. Now, a new biannual ranking released by researchers at Yale and Columbia finds that the U.S. is nowhere near the top in environmental performance, according to The Guardian.
- Trump's 2020 Budget Would Cut EPA Funding by 31% - EcoWatch ›
- Trump's Budget Plan: A Push for Even Greater Environmental ... ›
- 4 Former EPA Chiefs Speak Out Against Trump Administration ... ›
- The World's Happiest and Greenest Countries - EcoWatch ›
New Jersey has invested in the future health of the planet by making sure the next generation of adults knows how human activity has had a deleterious effect on the planet. The state will be the first in the nation to make the climate crisis as part of its curriculum for all students, from kindergarten all the way to 12th grade, as NorthJersey.com reported.
- Majority of Americans Want Climate Education in Schools - EcoWatch ›
- Study: Educating Children on Climate Change Teaches Parents Too ... ›
- Fox & Friends Attacks Public Schools for Teaching Climate Change ... ›
- Teacher to Heartland Institute: 'We Don't Do Alternative Facts in My ... ›
By Lindsey Schneider, Joshua Sbicca and Stephanie Malin
The SARS-CoV-2 virus is novel, but pandemic threats to indigenous peoples are anything but new. Diseases like measles, smallpox and the Spanish flu have decimated Native American communities ever since the arrival of the first European colonizers.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="63731ca7097bffc9347667697aea3206"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_TUc0iDWzfE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
History Reverberates on Native Lands<p>Native communities in North America have been disrupted and displaced for centuries. Many face long-standing food and water <a href="http://www.nativepartnership.org/site/DocServer/2017-PWNA-NPRA-Food-Insecurity-Project-Grow.pdf?docID=7106" target="_blank">inequities</a> that are further complicated by this pandemic.</p><p>On the Navajo reservation, which covers more than 27,000 square miles in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, 76% of households already <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235390130_High_levels_of_household_food_insecurity_on_the_Navajo_Nation" target="_blank">have trouble affording enough healthy food</a>, and the nearest grocery store is often hours away. COVID-related restrictions have further curtailed access to food supplies.</p><p>Clean water for basic sanitary measures like hand-washing is also scarce. Native Americans are <a href="http://uswateralliance.org/sites/uswateralliance.org/files/Closing%20the%20Water%20Access%20Gap%20in%20the%20United%20States_DIGITAL.pdf" target="_blank">19 times more likely</a> to lack indoor plumbing than whites in the U.S. Nearly one-third of Navajo households <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/coronavirus-hits-indian-country-hard-exposing-infrastructure-disparities-n1186976" target="_blank">lack access to running water</a>.</p><p>Many <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6915e3.htm" target="_blank">health issues</a> that can increase COVID-19 mortality rates occur at high levels among Native Americans. These <a href="http://www.ncai.org/news/articles/2020/03/18/the-national-congress-of-american-indians-calls-for-more-attention-to-covid-19-impacts-to-indian-country" target="_blank">underlying</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30893-X" target="_blank">preexisting</a> conditions – things like hypertension, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease – are <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6913e2.htm" target="_blank">linked to diet</a> and stem from <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank">disruption and replacement</a> of Indigenous food systems.</p>
High Exposure Rates<p>These factors have clear health impacts. On the Navajo reservation, for instance, through May 27, 2020, <a href="https://www.navajo-nsn.gov/News%20Releases/OPVP/2020/May/FOR%20IMMEDIATE%20RELEASE%20-%201620%20recoveries_102%20new%20cases%20of%20COVID-19_and%20one%20more%20death%20reported.pdf" target="_blank">4,944 people</a> out of a population of 173,000 had tested positive for COVID-19, and 159 had died.</p><p>This infection rate per capita exceeds those in hot spots such as <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexandrasternlicht/2020/05/19/navajo-nation-has-most-coronavirus-infections-per-capita-in-us-beating-new-york-new-jersey/#11a4fac08b10" target="_blank">New York and New Jersey</a>. Importantly, however, it may also reflect a much <a href="https://www.sltrib.com/news/2020/04/19/navajo-nation-has-higher/" target="_blank">more proactive approach to testing</a> on reservations than in many other jurisdictions.</p><p>The fact that elderly people are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 could worsen the pandemic's effects in Indian Country. Elders are the <a href="https://ais.washington.edu/research/publications/spirits-our-whaling-ancestors" target="_blank">keepers of traditional knowledge, tribal languages and culture</a> – legacies whose loss already threatens the persistence of indigenous communities.</p><p>Elders also play key roles in preserving traditional plant and medicine knowledge. In the absence of COVID-19 interventions from Western medicine, many elders have been called on to perform healing practices, which increases their exposure risk.</p>
Little Help From Federal and State Governments<p>Many tribal members rely on the federal government's <a href="https://www.ihs.gov/" target="_blank">Indian Health Service</a> for health care. But <a href="https://theconversation.com/tribal-leaders-face-great-need-and-dont-have-enough-resources-to-respond-to-the-coronavirus-pandemic-134372" target="_blank">lack of capacity</a> at the agency has hampered its response. Budget shortfalls, <a href="https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/report-grossly-inaccurate-data-used-to-divvy-up-relief-funds-for-tribes-9qkkHmeXj0uhRC42mXYqCA" target="_blank">inaccurate data</a>, the challenges of providing <a href="https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/coronavirus-risk-is-compounded-by-the-rural-DC-rMTUzzE6WDGee8jbENQ" target="_blank">rural health care</a> and ongoing personnel shortages in IHS clinics are compounded by staff being <a href="https://navajotimes.com/reznews/dikos-ntsaaigii-doodaa-nation-musters-defense-against-covid-19/" target="_blank">pulled away</a> to fight the virus in large cities.</p><p>And while many states have raised frustrations with the Trump administration's unwillingness to distribute protective supplies from the <a href="https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/4/3/21206170/us-emergency-stockpile-jared-kushner-almost-empty-coronavirus-medical-supplies-ventilators" target="_blank">dwindling national stockpile</a>, IHS and tribal health care authorities <a href="https://www.azpm.org/p/home-articles-news/2020/3/17/167874-bill-calls-for-more-tribal-community-access-to-federal-stockpile-of-medical-supplies/" target="_blank">never had access</a> to the stockpile at all.</p><p>Although the federal government has begun <a href="https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2020/05/22/hhs-announces-500-million-distribution-to-tribal-hospitals-clinics-and-urban-health-centers.html" target="_blank">distributing relief funds</a> to IHS agencies, there have been serious problems with the accompanying supplies. The Navajo Nation has received <a href="https://www.indianz.com/News/2020/05/22/propublica-former-trump-aide-provided-fa.asp" target="_blank">faulty masks</a>, and a Seattle Native health center asked for tests but <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/native-american-health-center-asked-covid-19-supplies-they-got-n1200246" target="_blank">received body bags instead</a>.</p><p>Meanwhile, federally imposed limits on tribal sovereignty have obstructed tribal governments' efforts to deal with the pandemic themselves. Federal and state governments are <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/makah-tribe-fights-coronavirus-with-self-reliance-and-extreme-isolation/" target="_blank">challenging tribes' jurisdictional authority</a> to <a href="https://www.azfamily.com/news/mayor-of-page-accused-of-racist-social-media-comment-toward-navajo-nation-president/article_e2e6efd6-8db4-11ea-a8a2-7f6976d702f6.html" target="_blank">close borders to tourists</a> who may carry the virus. South Dakota's governor has <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/may/14/sioux-coronavirus-roadblocks-south-dakota-governor" target="_blank">threatened legal action</a> against two tribes who set up checkpoints to monitor incoming traffic on their reservations.</p>
<iframe width="100%" height="150" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode twitter-embed-1263623015209725952" id="twitter-embed-1263623015209725952" lazy-loadable="true" src="/res/community/twitter_embed/?iframe_id=twitter-embed-1263623015209725952&created_ts=1590106178.0&screen_name=WestRiverEagle1&text=%23CheyenneRiverSiouxTribe+Chairman+Harold+Frazier%3A+Our+checkpoints+are+saving+lives+and+no+one%E2%80%99s+going+to+do+it+but%E2%80%A6+https%3A%2F%2Ft.co%2FbAzHmY1CN6&id=1263623015209725952&name=West+River+Eagle+Official" frameborder="0" data-rm-shortcode-id="7f93e7825d266dabf962ece41883a742"></iframe>
Environmental Injustices on Native Land<p>Energy development and resource extraction have had <a href="https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/898-all-our-relations" target="_blank">disproportionate impacts</a> on tribes for many years. Today, many Native American leaders worry that ongoing energy production – <a href="https://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/covid-19-essential-workers-in-the-states.aspx" target="_blank">an "essential" activity under federal guidelines</a> will bring outsiders into close contact with reservation communities, worsening COVID risks.</p><p>The owners of the Keystone XL oil pipeline have announced that they intend to continue construction, which will bring an influx of workers along the proposed route through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and Fort Belknap Indian community in Montana have filed for a <a href="https://www.narf.org/keystone-xl/" target="_blank">temporary restraining order</a>, and a key permit for the pipeline was <a href="https://www.democracynow.org/2020/4/16/headlines/us_judge_revokes_crucial_permit_for_keystone_xl_pipeline" target="_blank">revoked in April 2020</a>, but work continues at the U.S.-Canada border.</p><p>Construction is accelerating on the <a href="https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/border-issues/2020/03/17/border-patrol-waives-laws-border-wall-construction-southern-arizona/5063618002/" target="_blank">southern border wall</a>, which bisects the <a href="http://www.tonation-nsn.gov/" target="_blank">Tohono O'odham reservation</a> in Arizona and Mexico. The Trump administration has <a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/border-coronavirus-military-immigration/" target="_blank">increased patrols at the border</a>, despite the tribe's concern that the patrols' presence is <a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/04/06/coronavirus-cbp-160-cases-covid-19-officers-agents/2958736001/" target="_blank">spreading coronavirus</a> on the reservation.</p><p>And in Bristol Bay, Alaska, a salmon fishing season that brings in thousands of temporary workers is <a href="https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/it-s-hard-when-you-love-something-xlS49l2N20KZjqumwfzZfQ" target="_blank">set to open in June</a> because the federal government has also deemed commercial fishing "<a href="https://www.cisa.gov/sites/default/files/publications/CISA-Guidance-on-Essential-Critical-Infrastructure-Workers-1-20-508c.pdf" target="_blank">essential critical infrastructure</a>." Many local Native villages depend on the fishery for income, but have nonetheless pleaded with state regulators to <a href="https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/urgent-calls-to-close-the-massive-bristol-bay-fishery-8lYsGkUeDUyCBW7FMwpSfA?fbclid=IwAR1710u4rQnriq_MgH2ueQxOFtfGiGiH8I2ZdJRCZS9f28Zl-JNkPLpnzZo" target="_blank">cancel the season</a>. The regional hospital has just four beds for possible COVID-19 patients.</p>
Bold Action in Native Communities<p>Native communities are taking decisive action to reduce the spread of COVID-19. They're imposing aggressive <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/09/us/coronavirus-navajo-nation.html" target="_blank">quarantine</a> measures like lockdowns, curfews and border closures. Communities are <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/mar/18/covidcoronavirus-native-american-lummi-nation-trailblazing-steps" target="_blank">ramping up health care capacity</a> and elder support services, and banishing nontribal members who <a href="https://rapidcityjournal.com/news/local/oglala-sioux-council-banishes-non-member-with-covid-19-from-reservation/article_60b665c3-9d1b-5d48-a576-51774e4fb41a.html" target="_blank">violate travel restrictions</a>.</p><p>Other strategies include helping hunters <a href="https://indiancountrytoday.com/news/ammo-fuel-for-hunters-to-feed-others-Ki3zK6du-ky-UogoB9-aNQ" target="_blank">provide traditional foods</a> to their communities, <a href="https://ndncollective.org/indigenizing-and-decolonizing-community-care-in-response-to-covid-19/" target="_blank">mobilizing to support tribal health care workers</a>, and <a href="https://www.ehn.org/coronavirus-native-americans-2645923635.html" target="_blank">linking the pandemic and the climate crisis</a>. Looking ahead to a post-COVID future, we believe one priority should be attending to <a href="http://www.beacon.org/As-Long-as-Grass-Grows-P1445.aspx" target="_blank">front-line environmental justice struggles</a> that center tribes' sovereignty to act on their own behalf at all times, not just during national crises.</p>
- Keystone XL Pipeline Construction to Forge Ahead During ... ›
- 2 Million Americans Lack Clean Water Access, Especially Native ... ›
- Navajo Nation Has Highest Covid-19 Infection Rate in the U.S. ... ›
By Kaya Bulbul
The ocean is our lifeline - we rely on it for the food we eat, the air we breathe, as well as for millions for jobs worldwide.
As we continue to grapple with the issues of overfishing, plastic pollution, and climate change, there exists an opportunity to address these existential threats with new innovations, many of which unidentified or insufficiently supported.
<iframe src="https://livestream.com/accounts/1909571/events/9146673/videos/206855962/player?mute=false&width=640&height=360" width="100%" height="480" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e3e028fc3bb47f2a1bba1a20b830e724"></iframe>
- How Innovation Is Driving the Blue Economy - EcoWatch ›
- Adidas Unveils 3D-Printed Shoe Made From Plastic Ocean Waste ... ›
- 5 Solar Innovations That Are Revolutionizing the World - EcoWatch ›