Kibby Mountain Wind Power
Pat Wellenbach  /  AP
Turbines are seen along the Kibby Mountain Range in Western Maine on Oct. 15, 2009. The clean energy future that President Obama pushed in his State of the Union address on Tuesday may not be so clean.
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updated 1/27/2011 10:03:03 AM ET 2011-01-27T15:03:03

Facing a Congress that is more hostile to environmental regulation, President Barack Obama is moderating his environmental goals: a clean energy standard that mixes nuclear, natural gas and "clean coal" with wind, solar and other renewable sources.

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Obama called for 80 percent of the nation's electricity to come from clean sources by 2035. That goal represents a new strategy to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide blamed for global warming, following the death of cap-and-trade legislation that Obama pushed in Congress for the last two years.

Replay: Minute-by-minute of Obama's speech

The new target would double the percentage of electricity that comes from clean energy sources, according to a White House fact sheet. Clean coal, which would be produced by an experimental technology not yet available commercially, and "efficient natural gas" would be given only partial credits toward the goal.

Story: State of the Union: Full text of the speech
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Fallback position to cap and trade
The clean energy standard represents a second fallback position to cap and trade.

Under the cap-and-trade system, government places a limit on pollution and allows companies to buy and sell pollution permits under that ceiling. Companies that can reduce their emissions cheaply can then sell their unused credits to those that cannot afford the costs of emission controls.

Last year, a powerful coalition of renewable energy producers, environmental groups, governors and even some utilities couldn't push a renewable electricity standard of 15 percent across the finish line, in part because of regional resistance. In the Southeast, for example, it was argued that the region lacks renewable sources like abundant levels of wind.

The nuclear industry soon touted the idea of a broader clean energy standard, which got a nod from Energy Secretary Steven Chu last month. Chu said a goal of 50 percent by 2050 would be "about right" — but it turned out to be much less than Obama is proposing. The energy secretary told reporters Wednesday that he had been responding to a suggested level.

"Now, since that time, we have gone back and looked at it and it depends on how you define it," Chu said after an online clean energy town hall. The U.S., he said, already gets about 40 percent of its electricity from clean energy sources and more than 30 percent from carbon-free sources.

Chu called the new proposal "a recognition that solutions can be different in different parts of the United States, but ... this is the goal we're looking for and depending on the region, you have different options of getting to that eventual goal."

Winning over Republicans, and environmental groups
Whether the administration can win over many Republicans isn't clear yet.

Congresman Doc Hastings, a Washington Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, said Obama "needs to embrace a robust plan to produce all types of American energy — from renewable to American-made oil and natural gas — and it has to be done without harmful government subsidies or unrealistic mandates."

Ralph Wilson  /  AP
Workers move a section of well casing into place at a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well site near Burlington, Pa., in Bradford County on April 23, 2010.

Senator Lamar Alexander, a big proponent of nuclear power, said the policy was an improvement over a renewable energy standard, which he dismissed as "just a national windmill policy." But he said he didn't support a clean energy standard either.

Story: GOP responds to Obama speech — and then Tea Party weighs in

At the other end of the political spectrum, several environmental groups were opposed to elements of the broader mandate.

"Developing clean energy sources for more of our electricity is another way to skin the carbon cat," said Bob Deans, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It's important, though, that we do the job right, not simply redefine the cat."

Deans called clean coal an oxymoron and said the government should not be subsidizing nuclear power because of concerns over waste and nuclear proliferation.

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"Coal, nuclear power, biofuels and natural gas are inherently dirty," said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. "Telling Americans anything else is just misleading."

But Obama received some support from key Democratic lawmakers.

"This year we need to double down instead of walking away," said Senator John Kerry, one of the leaders of the climate legislation effort last year. "Today's energy economy is a $6 trillion market, and the fastest-growing segment is clean energy."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explainer: State of the union: by the numbers

  • After President Barack Obama's delivery of the annual State of the Union address to Congress, here is a look at some of the facts and figures that shape American life and how they have changed in the past decade (based on the latest available data, compiled from multiple sources).

  • Economy and Business

    Unemployed workers, January 2000: 4.0%
    Unemployed workers, January 2011: 9.4%

    Dow Industrial Average, Jan. 25, 2000:11,029
    Dow Industrial Average, Jan. 20, 2011:11,822

    U.S. federal debt, September 2000:$5,674,178,209,886
    U.S. federal debt, September 2010:$13,561,623,030,891

    Median new home price, January 2000: $163,500
    Median new home price, November 2010: $213,000

    Household income (top 5%), 2000:$252,400
    Household income (top 5%), 2009:$295,388

    Household income (bottom 5%), 2000:$10,157
    Household income (bottom 5%), 2009:$11,552

    Total U.S. population, 2000: 281,421,906
    Total U.S. population, 2010:308,745,538

    Number of U.S. millionaires, 2000:6.3 million
    Number of U.S. millionaires, 2010:7.8 million

    Price of admission to Forbes 400 list, 2000:$725 million
    Price of admission to Forbes 400 list, 2010:$1 billion

  • Politics

    Congressional approval, December 2000:55% approve; 30% disapprove     
    Congressional approval, September 2010:
    20% approve, 73% disapprove

    Confidence in national news media, December 2000:40% have little or no confidence
    Confidence in national news media, January 2011:42% have little or no confidence

    Confidence in the federal government, December 2000:19% have little or no confidence
    Confidence in the federal government, January 2010:
    35% have little or no confidence

    Hispanic/Latino electorate in 2000 election:7%
    Hispanic/Latino electorate in 2008 election:9%

    Women serving in Congress, 2000: 67
    Women serving in Congress, 2011: 93

    African-American members in U.S. Senate, 2000:0
    African-American members in U.S. Senate, 2011:0

  • Health

    Life expectancy at birth, 2000:76.8 years
    Life expectancy at birth, 2010:78.3 years, projected

    Number of uninsured Americans, 2000: 38.4 million
    Number of uninsured Americans, 2010:
    50.7 million

    Cancer deaths, all causes, 2000:553,091
    Cancer deaths, all causes, 2010:
    569,490

  • Travel

    Average price of a gallon of gas, 2000:$1.51/gallon
    Average price of a gallon of gas, 2011:
    $3.08/gallon

    Average airfare, 2000:$339
    Average airfare, 2011: $335 (through second quarter of 2010)

    First-bag fee, 2000: None
    First-bag fee, 2010:$20-25 (on most major U.S. carriers)

    Average hotel, 2000:$85.89/night
    Average hotel, 2011:$97.89/night (through September 2010)

    One-day ticket to Walt Disney World, 2000:$46
    One-day ticket to Walt Disney World, 2011:$82

  • Tech and Science

    Google searches per day, 2000: 30 million
    Google searches per day, 2011:
    Over 1 billion

    Wireless phone subscribers in U.S., 2000:97 million (34% of population)
    Wireless phone subscribers in U.S., 2011:293 million (93% of population)

    Facebook users, worldwide, 2000: 0
    Facebook users, worldwide, 2011:600 million

    Federal spending on research and development, 2000:$99 billion (actual spending)
    Federal spending on research and development, 2011:$148 billion (proposed)

    NASA science missions in operation, 2000: 38
    NASA science missions in operation, 2011:67

  • Education

    Public schools that require student uniforms, 1999-2000:12%
    Public schools that require student uniforms, 2007-2008:18%

    Public schools reporting the use of one or more security cameras, 1999-2000:19%
    Public schools reporting the use of one or more security cameras, 2007-2008:55%

    Nationwide graduation rates at public high schools, 2000-2001:71.7%
    Nationwide graduation rates at public high schools, 2007-2008:74.9%

    Average salary for public high school teachers, 1999-2000:$42,546
    Average salary for public high school teachers, 2008-2009:$53,724

    Minorities enrolled in 4-year institutions, 2000:1.5 million
    Minorities enrolled in 4-year institutions, 2007:1.8 million

    Average college tuition for 4-year private institutions, 1999-2000:$20,706
    Average college tuition for 4-year private institutions, 2009-2010:$26,273

    Science and math literacy (U.S. ranking on OECD PISA test given to 15-year-olds), 2000:14th in science, 19th in math
    Science and math literacy (U.S. ranking on OECD PISA test given to 15-year-olds), 2009:23rd in science, 31st in math

  • Sports

    Highest paid athletes (includes salaries, bonuses, prize money, endorsements and appearance fees), 2000:Michael Schumacher, $59 million
    Highest paid athletes (includes salaries, bonuses, prize money, endorsements and appearance fees), 2010:Tiger Woods, $105 million

    Cost of a Super Bowl ad, 2000:$2.1 million
    Cost of a Super Bowl ad, 2011:$3 million

    Rose Bowl payout (amount paid to each participating team), 2000:$12 million
    Rose Bowl payout (amount paid to each participating team), 2011:$21.2 million

    Average cost of an NFL ticket, 2000:$45.63
    Average cost of an NFL ticket, 2011:$76.47

  • Entertainment and Lifestyle

    Average movie ticket price, 2001: $5.66
    Average movie ticket price, 2011: $7.95

    Golden Globe winner for best picture, 2001:"A Beautiful Mind"
    Golden Globe winner for best picture, 2011:"The Social Network"

    Number of wide-release 3-D movies, 2001: 1
    Number of wide-released 3-D movies, 2011:30+

    Oprah Winfrey net worth, 2001:$800 million
    Oprah Winfrey net worth, 2011:$2.7 billion

    Number of children in the Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar family, 2001: 13
    Number of children in the Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar family, 2011: 19

    Most-watched TV show, 2001-2002:"Friends," 24.46 million average
    Most-watched TV show, 2010:"American Idol," 29.8 million average

    Highest-paid TV actor, 2001:Kelsey Grammer, $1.6 million per episode
    Highest-paid TV actor, 2011:Charlie Sheen, $1.25 million per episode

    Number of reality shows in Nielsen top 10, 2001: 2
    Number of reality shows in Nielsen top 10, 2010: 5

    Top-earning concert act, 2001:U2, estimated ticket sales $109.7 million
    Top-earning concert act, 2010:Bon Jovi, estimated ticket sales $201.1 million

    Average concert ticket price, 2001:$43.86
    Average concert ticket price, 2010:$55

    Popularity rank of the names "Malia" and "Sasha," 2000:498, 476
    Popularity rank of the names "Malia" and "Sasha," 2009:192, 261

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