The 2012 State of the Union: Earth and Space Science Highlights

25 January 2012
AGU Science Policy Alert 12-5

Last night’s State of the Union address was highlighted with proposals for corporate and personal tax reform and focused primarily on addressing inequality.  However, the speech did contain some policies and broad principles of interest to the Earth and space sciences with regards to federally-funded science research, education, energy, and infrastructure.

Federally-funded Research and Development

The President noted the importance of basic research in building innovation and creating jobs.  He urged Congress to continue investing in federally-funded labs and universities, asking them to “support the same kind of research and innovation that led to the computer chip and the Internet; to new American jobs and new American industries.”  The President later noted that it was federal research dollars that developed the technology and discovered the techniques for hydraulic fracturing, a major innovation in American clean energy.


Education was a major focus of the address. Obama noted the current dismal fiscal state of many schools and classrooms and the importance of providing teachers with the necessary resources to allow their students to excel.  The President strives to grant schools the flexibility to “teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.”  He also called on every state to “require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn eighteen.”

To help curb the rising cost of college, the President called on Congress to stop interest rates on student loans from doubling in July and extend the tuition tax credit.  Obama also set the goal to “give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work-study jobs in the next five years.”

The President stated that “growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings” as qualified workers.  He asked Congress to join him in a national commitment to train two million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job by providing community colleges with the necessary resources to become “community career centers — places that teach people the skills that local businesses are looking for right now, from data management to high-tech manufacturing.”

Obama also noted the growing importance of college students in the U.S. who are not American citizens and the threat they face of deportation after graduation.  In working on comprehensive immigration reform, the President stated that policymakers should “agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs (and) start new businesses.”

Energy and Climate

President Obama stated that “nowhere is the promise of innovation greater in America than in American-made energy.”  The President will open more than 75 percent of the nation’s offshore oil and gas resources to further lower dependence on foreign oil. He noted the importance of shale natural gas development in providing cleaner, cheaper energy and said that his Administration will “take every possible action to safely develop this energy.”  In order to do so, the President will require that all companies drilling for gas on public land disclose the chemicals they use so that the country can “develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”  The President also stated that in order to “fight climate change,” he is directing his Administration “to allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power three million homes” and congratulated the Department of Defense for their new commitment to clean energy.


The President noted the importance of government-funded infrastructure projects in creating jobs and maintaining national security.  Obama stated that in the next few weeks, he “will sign an Executive Order clearing away the red tape that slows down many construction projects.”  He called on Congress to fund these projects by taking half of the money “we’re no longer spending at war” and using it to fund improvements in national infrastructure.

Contact Your Legislators

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