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Obama Slams Koch Brothers at Clean Energy Summit for 'Standing in the Way of Progress'

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Obama Slams Koch Brothers at Clean Energy Summit for 'Standing in the Way of Progress'

President Obama has returned from vacation and he said he feels "refreshed, renewed, recharged" and "a little feisty." Well, that feistiness was apparent as he delivered the closing address at the 8th National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, Nevada Monday. Sun-blessed Nevada is being hailed as "ground zero in the solar boom." He slammed critics of his energy policies for “wanting to protect an outdated status quo” based on fossil fuels and warned them away from “standing in the way of the future” and his efforts to combat climate change.

He railed against U.S. political and business figures, particularly the Koch brothers, for attempting to thwart the expansion of wind and solar power, which is widely popular among the American public.

"When you start seeing massive lobbying efforts backed by fossil fuel interests, or conservative think tanks, or the Koch brothers pushing for new laws to roll back renewable energy standards, or to prevent new clean energy businesses from succeeding, that's a problem," Obama said, marking the first time the President has singled out the Koch brothers in a climate speech. The explosive growth of solar in the U.S. "has some big fossil fuel interests pretty nervous," Obama noted.

And he pointed out the inconsistency of those who promote free market solutions, except when those solutions point to renewable energy. "Now, it's one thing if you're consistent in being free market," said Obama. "It's another thing when you're free market until it's solar that's working and people want to buy and suddenly you're not for it any more."

Koch-backed groups, particularly the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), have fought renewable energy programs in several states, including pushing for states to withdraw from climate compacts, penalizing rooftop solar installations and repealing renewable portfolio standards.

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"That's not the American way. That's not progress. That's not innovation. That's rent seeking. That's standing in the way of progress," Obama said. The President's speech, however, was not all doom and gloom and bashing his critics. Obama spoke optimistically about American ingenuity and with great hope about solar and other renewable forms of energy. “We’re here today because we believe that no challenge poses a greater threat to our future than climate change,” Mr. Obama said. “But we’re also here because we hold another belief, and that is, we are deeply optimistic about American ingenuity.”

Obama said the growth in solar—which is 20 times bigger than it was in 2008, is "like evolving from the telegraph to the smartphone in less than a decade." And he noted that "solar isn't just for the green crowd any more, it's for the green-eyeshade crowd too," citing the fact that Walmart, Google and Apple are among the largest buyers of renewable energy in the world.

The speech came "as his administration announced a series of measures to encourage solar power construction, including making an additional $1 billion in loan guarantee authority available in a federal program for innovative versions of residential rooftop solar systems," reports The New York Times.

“We’re going to make it even easier for individual homeowners to put solar panels on the roof with no upfront cost,” Obama said. “So we’re taking steps that will allow more Americans to join this revolution, with no money down.”

And this is all on the heels of the President's Clean Power Plan, which requires states to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Much of those cuts would come from bringing more renewable energy projects online.

Environmental groups praised the President's latest efforts. “President Obama’s announcement today is a huge win for American families from coast-to-coast," said Sierra Club Legislative Director Melinda Pierce. "These policies will save homeowners money on their electricity bills, put more people to work and empower Americans to act to tackle climate disruption in their everyday lives."

President Obama's speech was the first leg of a climate tour that will culminate in a three-day trip to Alaska next week. On Thursday, President Obama will fly to New Orleans to mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and speak about how cities can become more resilient in the face of climate change.

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A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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