The State of Energy, Power, Climate Change in Obama's Past SOTU Addresses

Energy and environment issues have figured prominently in past State of the Union (SOTU) addresses. Here’s a look back at President Obama’s previous speeches.

See what Obama said in his final SOTU speech on January 12.

2010: Nuclear Gets the Spotlight

In his very first State of the Union address, President Obama called for incentives to make clean energy profitable—mainly through the construction of a new generation of nuclear power plants. That comment, an apparent effort to reach out to Republican members of Congress, drew furious applause.

2011: A New Renewable Goal

In a declaration that prompted a lot of buzz, the president challenged the nation to set a new goal: By 2035, 80% of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources, he said. To that end, he pledged to expand ARPA-E funding to make solar and other renewables competitive. He also challenged the nation to put a million advanced technology vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015.

2012: All-Out for an All-of-the-Above Strategy

At the start of this election year, Obama vehemently championed an “all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy; a strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs.” His address was heavily focused on renewables and natural gas, however, and did not mention coal and nuclear—which incited some industry backlash.

Significantly, during his speech the president urged Congress to pass a federal clean energy standard. He also vowed to level the playing field for clean energy technology manufacturers by creating a trade enforcement unit.

2013: Climate Change Is a Priority 

Energy figured prominently in this speech. The president urged Congress to pursue legislation to mitigate climate change and called for an expansion of clean energy and reduced red tape for natural gas and oil permits. He lauded the natural gas boom and falling carbon emissions.

However, citing Superstorm Sandy, he called on Congress to pursue a “bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change,” saying that if Congress did not act, he would issue executive actions to reduce pollution and prepare communities for consequences of climate change.

2014: “All-of-the-Above” Energy Strategy Is Working

Again, mention of energy was brief, though the president declared: “The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades.” Materials issued with the speech proclaimed that “natural gas is helping to reduce carbon pollution.”

He also took what was then a noteworthy stance on climate change, declaring, “Climate change is a fact” and saying that the administration was acting “with urgency” because a changing climate is already harming the American West. He also mentioned the Environmental Protection Agency’s then-proposed Clean Power Plan.

2015: A Scant Focus on Energy

The word “energy” only appeared twice in the president’s speech—once in mention of the nation’s “booming energy production” and once with regard to how we produce and use energy. The word “power” came up twice with respect to the energy sector—in both cases referring to renewable power.

Obama also addressed the need to take more action on the cybersecurity front, however, urging Congress to finally pass legislation to meet evolving cyberattack threats.

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)


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