NATION

President Obama, in California stop, makes push for energy efficiency

In first-ever presidential visit to a Wal-Mart, Obama makes solar energy push

Making the first-ever presidential stop at a Wal-Mart on Friday, President Obama urged U.S. businesses to join his administration’s efforts to improve energy efficiency -- arguing that "there are cost-effective ways to tackle climate change and create jobs at the same time."

Speaking from the middle of a solar-powered big-box store here, with a backdrop of glitter-encrusted flip-flops and cotton sun dresses, Obama announced a series of executive actions and partnerships with private companies to curb carbon emissions. He touted Wal-Mart’s new goal of doubling the number of solar projects at its stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico over the next six years.

Though Obama has faced opposition to his environmental agenda in Congress, the president said he would continue to advance his initiatives through the power of his pen and by leaning on private companies for help.

In recent months, he said, he'd been dialing up U.S. businesses and asking them to commit to using more renewable energy. The White House announced Friday that 10 had agreed, including Yahoo, Google, Apple, Ikea, Kaiser Permanente, Clif Bar, Viridity Energy, Bonipak farms and Taylor Farms.

“Together, the commitments we are announcing today prove that there are cost-effective ways to tackle climate change and create jobs at the same time,” Obama said before a crowd of supporters and Wal-Mart employees. “So often when we hear about how we’re going to deal with this really serious issue, people say we can’t afford to do it. It won’t be good for the economy.”

“It will be good for the economy long-term,” the president said emphatically, “and if we don’t, that will be bad for the economy.”

Obama’s speech capped a weeklong push on climate-change initiatives by the White House and its Democratic allies in Congress. Obama alluded to the administration’s release Tuesday of the National Climate Assessment, which detailed the effects of climate change region by region across the U.S..

“Rising sea levels, drought, more wildfires, more severe storms -- those are bad for the economy. ... So we can’t afford to wait,” the president said as he reeled off some of the findings in the National Climate Assessment.

The report’s authors found “unequivocally that climate change is not some far-off problem in the future,” he said. “It’s happening now. It’s causing hardship now. It’s effecting every sector of our economy and our society.”

Though the Senate renewed its effort to pass energy-efficiency legislation this week, the administration has little hope of getting a bill through Congress. Obama said Friday that because Congress has not been “as visionary on these issues" as he would like, when he can “create my own opportunities for new jobs, I’m going to take it.”

He noted that jobs in the solar industry increased last year by 20%, and repeatedly sought to tie about 20 executive actions that he has taken on environmental issues to jobs -- noting at one point that the work of a solar panel installation technician could not be shipped overseas.

Among his executive actions, Obama said, is a Department of Energy expansion of a solar job-training program at community colleges to usher an additional 50,000 workers into the industry. He also announced a $2-billion initiative to improve energy efficiency in federal buildings over the next three years. (Similar work is ongoing: Administration officials said there are about $2.7 billion worth of projects in the pipeline).  

Obama briefly took on his opponents during the 15-minute speech: "Unfortunately, inside of Washington, we've still got some climate deniers who shout loud, but they're wasting everybody's time on a settled debate," he said. "Climate change is a fact, and while we know the shift to clean energy won't happen overnight, we've got to make some tough choices along the way.''

In the long term, he said, those choices would save businesses money and create jobs: "That's what Wal-Mart understands, and Wal-Mart's pretty good counting its pennies."

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