MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. - Calling it the right thing to do for America's bottom line, President Barack Obama announced new steps Friday by companies, local governments and his own administration to deploy solar technology, showcasing steps to combat climate change that don't require consent from a disinclined Congress.
Framed by rows of clothing and patio supplies at a Wal-Mart in California, Obama said more than 300 companies and state and local governments have pledged to use solar energy. It's a good move for the country, he said, adding that solar energy is cheaper and easier to use than ever before.
"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, where Obama was wrapping up a three-day swing through California.
Ticking through 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 said.
Obama also announced executive actions aimed at increasing energy efficiency in buildings and appliances. The White House said the solar effort will power the equivalent of 130,000 homes and the administrative actions could reduce carbon pollution in an amount equal to taking 80 million cars off the road for one year.
Tweaking 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.
"Unfortunately, inside of Washington, we still have some climate deniers who shout loud," Obama said. "But they're wasting people's time on a settled debate."
His policies unable to generate momentum in Congress, Obama has increasingly gone outside the federal government to press his agenda. He has won commitments from colleges and universities to expand access to more students, he has created innovation hubs that link businesses and education institutions, and has drawn attention to companies and states and local governments that have increased pay for workers.
The White House said it chose Wal-Mart because the company has committed to doubling the number of solar energy projects at its stores, Sam's Clubs and distribution centers. But in choosing the giant retailer as the backdrop for his announcement, Obama 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.
"What numbskull in the White House arranged this?" former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who served in the Bill Clinton administration, said on Facebook.
In promoting the energy efficiency announcement ahead of Friday's event, the White House said solar energy prices have dropped markedly in four years, with solar panels now costing about 60 percent less. The White House also announced the completion of energy efficiency standards for walk-in coolers and freezers typically used in grocery stores.
The Wal-Mart location here gets about 15 percent of its power from solar panels. Wal-Mart's president, Bill Simon, said earlier that Obama is the first president to visit one of the chain's warehouse stores.
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