WASHINGTON, DC, January 20, 2015 (ENS) – “No challenge – no challenge – poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change,” President Barack Obama said to applause during his sixth State of the Union Address, delivered tonight to a joint session of Congress.

The President told the lawmakers, members of his administration, Supreme Court justices, military leaders and distinguished guests how he and his administration have reversed the economic crisis, beaten back terrorists, reduced America’s dependence on foreign oil and protected the planet.

“And today, America is number one in oil and gas. America is number one in wind power. Every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008. And thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save about $750 at the pump,” Obama said proudly.

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President Barack Obama makes his case for action to curb climate change during his State of the Union Address, Jan. 20, 2015 (Screengrab from video courtesy The White House)

The President issued warnings on the dangers of terrorist actions, cyber attacks and Republican-led sanctions against Iran that threaten to derail negotiations towards “a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran…”

But Obama reserved his sternest warning for the dangers of climate change. “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record,” the President declared. “Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does: 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.”

Dealing with climate change deniers, a label that could be applied to many Republicans, Obama said, “I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what, I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and at NOAA, and at our major universities. And the best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we don’t act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration and conflict and hunger around the globe.”

“The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it,” Obama warned to applause.

“And that’s why, over the past six years, we’ve done more than ever to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy to the way we use it. That’s why we’ve set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history,” Obama said. “And that’s why I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts.”

At the end of this year, world leaders are scheduled to agree to a legally-binding, UN-backed global agreement to curb climate change. President Obama pledged tonight that his administration will lead that effort.

“I am determined to make sure that American leadership drives international action,” he declared.

“In Beijing, we made a historic announcement: The United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution. And China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions. And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that this year the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got,” Obama said.

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A rare moment – lawmakers on both sides of the aisle give President Obama a standing ovation, Jan. 20, 2015 (Screengrab from video courtesy The White House)

On November 12, 2014 during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping said in a joint statement that their countries “have a critical role to play in combating global climate change, one of the greatest threats facing humanity.”

“The global scientific community has made clear that human activity is already changing the world’s climate system,” they declared. “The seriousness of the challenge calls upon the two sides to work constructively together for the common good.”

Referring to the highly controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline proposed by the Canadian company TransCanada, Obama hinted that he would deny the project the required Presidential Permit.

“Twenty-first century businesses need 21st century infrastructure – modern ports, and stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest Internet. Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this. So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline,” he said. “Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come.”

The official Republican response to the State of the Union Address was delivered by newly elected Iowa Senator Joni Ernst. But she did not really respond to the President’s speech. She did not mention climate change at all, but she did say that the new Republican majority in Congress would attempt to push through approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which she called “the Keystone jobs bill.”

“President Obama has been delaying this bipartisan infrastructure project for years, even though many members of his party, unions, and a strong majority of Americans support it,” said Ernst. “The president’s own State Department has said Keystone’s construction could support thousands of jobs and pump billions into our economy, and do it with minimal environmental impact.”

“President Obama will soon have a decision to make,” said Ernst. “Will he sign the bill or block good American jobs?”

Environmentalists had both praise and criticism for Obama’s State of the Union Adress.

Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “President Obama hit the nail on the head by urging us to focus on expanding jobs in our nation’s infrastructure – and stop looking to the Keystone XL pipeline, a dirty tar sands project that would sustain 35 permanent jobs. In just the last three years, nearly a quarter-million clean-energy jobs were created – workers all across America building wind turbines, solar power facilities and energy-efficient homes, cars and workplaces. That’s the 21st Century clean-energy jobs infrastructure that will be good for the health of our children and our planet.”

Trip Van Noppen, president of the public interest environmental law firm Earthjustice, said, “The President and our federal government are finally taking real action to protect our nation from costly and disastrous climate change. The President’s plans to cut down on the worst sources of potent climate change pollution – carbon dioxide and methane – are unprecedented steps in the right direction, which will help clean up our nation’s air, waters, and communities so that families can survive and thrive.”

But, said Van Noppen, “The President also spoke of leading the world in oil and gas production. Our nation’s waterways and drinking water sources, our treasured public lands, and our fragile Arctic require new thinking from the President. Short-sighted drilling and mining plans are threatening the special places Americans cherish. Attempting to address climate change while promoting ever more drilling and mining is like trying to win a race by riding the brakes.”

President Obama made it clear that he intends to solidify the nation’s leadership on climate change,” said World Resources Institute President CEO Dr. Andrew Steer. “The Obama administration is primed to build on the progress over the past six years and bring countries together around a strong international climate agreement. He plans to take action based on science and will not be deterred by those who reject the evidence.”

Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director, said, “When it comes to the climate crisis, the President knows the stakes, and tonight, he underscored the urgency of the problem and his commitment to climate action for our children’s future. To meet the greatest challenge of our generation, we can and we must end our dependence not just on foreign oil, but all fossil fuels. We can indeed set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline.”

Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp noted the presence of Nicole Hernandez Hammer sitting with First Lady Michelle Obama. “She is a mom and a climate scientist who is achieving remarkable success in her work with Moms Clean Air Force, a powerful advocacy group that EDF helped launch. Her presence tonight was another sign that this administration understands that climate change is a pressing issue.”

“The impacts of climate change threaten all Americans, so it’s vital that we continue to address it,” said Krupp. “Since the last State of the Union address, America has taken some big steps in the right direction. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed its Clean Power Plan, which will put the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants. The President announced a plan to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas operations. And the U.S. and China announced efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But it’s critical that we keep moving toward a clean energy future. … The President’s words tonight are a promising sign that we will.”

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