Obama touts solar power at Wal-Mart

 

President Obama on Friday announced more than 300 commitments from retailers, school districts, and food services to expand the use of solar power and energy efficiency tools to combat climate change.

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Speaking at a Wal-Mart store in Mountain View, Calif., Obama touted new executive actions the administration will take to boost solar energy projects and increase the energy efficiency of federal buildings.

"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 on Friday.

"It will be good for the economy long term. Rising sea levels, drought, or wildfires, more severe storms, those are bad for the economy, so we can't afford to wait."

With Congress polarized on the question of whether action is needed on climate change, Obama said the administration is pressing ahead by working with states, utilities and companies on projects that will help curb global warming.

The White House shifted its focus to climate change this week with the release of the third annual national climate report, which said climate change is affecting every region of the United States.

Conservatives have expressed skepticism at the report, arguing it fails to marshal the evidence to back up its claims.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said if the president were serious about making jobs, he'd drop his climate agenda and change course. 

"He needs to change direction: If he wants to create jobs and make America energy independent, approve the Keystone pipeline and stop the War on Coal.”

Obama said, "Unfortunately inside Washington we still have climate deniers who shout loud, but they are wasting everybody's time on a settled debate. Climate change is a fact. And while we know the shift to clean energy won't happen overnight we have to make some tough choices along the way."

"That's what Wal-Mart understands, and Wal-Mart's pretty good at counting its pennies," he added.

Wal-Mart joined in the administration's solar push, pledging to double its solar capacity at stores, distribution centers and Sam's Clubs by 2020.

But the White House's decision to make the announcement from a Wal-Mart store stirred up controversy with some groups on the left.

Robert Reich, the former secretary of Labor under the Clinton administration, railed against the White House for arranging the speech at a Wal-Mart store at a time when Democrats are pushing for an increase in the minimum wage.

"What numbskull in the White House arranged this?" Reich posted on Facebook Thursday evening. "Walmart is one of the nation’s largest and worst employers — low wages, unreliable hours, few benefits, discrimination against women, and anti-union."

Wal-Mart says it pays competitive wages in the retail industry.

On top of the new solar deployments by public and private sector leaders across the U.S., Obama said the Energy Department will announce support for community college training programs in 49 states to help 50,000 workers find jobs in the solar industry by 2020.

In addition, Obama pledged $2 billion in energy efficiency investments for federal building, adding to the $2 billion already in place.

The Energy Department will also issue its final energy efficiency conservation standards for electric motors, and walk-in coolers and freezers, which are expected to curb carbon pollution by 158 metric tons through 2030.

While the administration announced its latest initiatives in Obama's renewed climate agenda, the Senate struggled this week to reach an agreement on how to move forward with an energy efficiency bill of its own.

That won't hold up the White House, Obama said.

"Unfortunately, Congress has not always been as visionary on these issues as we would like," he said. "It can be a little frustrating. But in this year of action, wherever I can go ahead and create my own opportunities for new jobs, I'm going to take it."

—  This story was updated at 2:15 p.m.