Ever since winning re-election by a comfortable margin last November, President Obama has let his more combative side come across in many of his public appearances. Gone is the tone of polite conciliation. The older, wiser Second-Term Obama has come out swinging for more progressive action on a number of liberal issues, such as environmental activism.
Last night’s State of the Union address was no exception, with the President dedicating a surprisingly large chunk of time to green issues, including climate change and clean energy. Amid the bold environmental policy initiatives he listed in his speech, Obama even made passing references to the need to build more efficient residential and commercial buildings.
After proposing to use oil and gas revenues to create an Energy Security Trust that would fund research on renewable energy, he set an ambitious new goal for the country’s residential and commercial buildings. “Let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years,” he said. “The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen.”
While he did not go into specifics about how much federal support would be on the table for green building or how the “best ideas” for energy reduction would be determined, but it’s a start, at least.
Another passage in the speech involving construction, although not for inhabited buildings, was the sorry state of our nation’s infrastructure and its negative effects on America’s ability to compete in the global marketplace:
“America’s energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair. Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire: A country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and internet; high-tech schools and self-healing power grids. The CEO of Siemens America — a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina — has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they’ll bring even more jobs. And I know that you want these job-creating projects in your districts. I’ve seen you all at the ribbon-cuttings.”
To shore up some of the most critical areas, Obama proposed a Fix-It-First program to hire crews to make repairs and retrofits on “the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country,” as well as modernization of port facilities, pipelines and aging school buildings.
He even managed to throw in a plug for the growing 3D printing industry. While Obama’s mention of this new trend was in the context of conventional factory operations, more investment in additive methods like 3D printing could have a major impact on the way buildings are designed and constructed in the near future.
“Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio. A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything. There’s no reason this can’t happen in other towns.”
Obama then challenged Congress to fund 15 more of these 3D printing hubs, with assistance from the departments of Defense and Energy, in industrial areas of the country that have experienced the greatest loss of manufacturing jobs.
Like most SOTU speeches, this one was long on rhetoric and ideals and short on specifics and timelines. But in this fifth address Obama has made since taking office, he seems to have a new sense of urgency and commitment not seen before. “What are we waiting for?” he asked the assembled Legislative and Judicial branches in the audience. “What’s holding us back?”