MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – Flanked by bargain-priced displays of women’s wear and patio lighting, President Barack Obama came to a Wal-Mart store in Silicon Valley on Friday to praise new steps by businesses and communities to deploy solar energy, showcasing efforts to combat climate change that don’t rely on a disinclined Congress.
Obama said more than 300 companies and state and local governments have pledged to use solar technology, and he unveiled his own executive actions aimed at increasing energy efficiency with a goal of reducing U.S. reliance on carbon fuels. The two tracks underscored Obama’s strategy of sidestepping Congress to advance his own agenda, but they also illustrated the limits of his reach in a bitterly divided government.
“The commitments we’re announcing today prove that there are cost-effective ways to tackle climate change and create jobs at the same time,” Obama said at a sprawling Wal-Mart store in Mountain View.
The solar effort will power the equivalent of 130,000 homes, the White House said, while Obama’s administrative actions could reduce carbon pollution in an amount equal to taking 80 million cars off the road for one year. The White House also announced that long-delayed energy efficiency standards for walk-in coolers and freezers have been completed.
Ticking off a list of economic and environmental benefits he attributed to solar technology, Obama cast the commitments as part of a broader campaign to reduce American energy dependence, create jobs in renewable energy and lower heat-trapping emissions blamed for global warming.
“This is what you call a win-win-win,” Obama told about 250 store employees as he wrapped up a three-day swing through California focused heavily on raising money for Democrats in advance of November’s midterm elections.
Tweaking the mostly Republican opponents of his energy policies in Congress, Obama lamented that lawmakers have “not always been as visionary on these issues as we would like.” That’s why he’s seizing opportunities this year to act unilaterally to advance those goals, Obama said.
The White House said it chose Wal-Mart as a backdrop because the company has committed to doubling the number of solar energy projects at its stores, Sam’s Clubs and distribution centers. But it also triggered a backlash from labor unions and pay equity advocates who say low wages paid by Wal-Mart fly in the face of Obama’s vaunted push on pay equity.
The Wal-Mart location he visited gets about 15 percent of its power from solar panels.