Throwing shade on solar push? Obama riles organized labor with Walmart visit

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Citing the dangers of climate change, President Obama on Friday took new executive action to promote renewable power and energy efficiency, but the venue the White House chose to make its announcement — a San Jose-area Walmart — led to an uproar among some Democrats and leading figures in organized labor who object to the company’s workplace practices.

On the heels of a massive federal report that predicted catastrophic effects from climate change, the president announced that his administration has secured commitments from Apple, Home Depot and more than 300 other companies and organizations to expand the use of solar power.

Mr. Obama also said dozens of cities, school districts, universities, businesses and other entities have vowed to dramatically increase energy efficiency at their facilities.

For businesses in particular, the president said, becoming more energy efficient means lower prices for shoppers and, in theory, better wages for employees.

“This is going to make a difference, and it’s the right thing to do for the planet, but it’s also the right thing to do for the bottom line, because when you save money you can pass that money on to consumers in the form of lower prices, or you can use it to create more jobs,” the president said.

For some, however, the announcements themselves were overshadowed by Mr. Obama appearing inside a Walmart, a company that hasn’t backed the president’s call for a higher minimum wage and also does not allow its workers to unionize.

“While he’s in California, I would hope President Obama would speak directly to Walmart employees and hear from them about their daily struggles to pay the rent and put food on the table,” Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, told the Associated Press.

The administration picked Walmart because the company says it will double the number of solar-energy projects at its stores across the country, and the president praised the company for its use of renewable energy.

That did little to soothe Democrats. In recent months, the president has visited Costco and other stores that support pieces of the White House’s economic agenda, and in that regard Friday’s event stood in stark contrast to previous backdrops used by Mr. Obama.

“What numbskull in the White House arranged this?” said Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary under President Clinton, in a post on his Facebook page.

The president didn’t address the backlash during his remarks, but did make clear he’ll continue his “year of action” to address energy and climate change.

Mr. Obama said he’ll use executive authority to direct the Department of Energy to launch a new community-college training program, designed to help 50,000 workers enter the solar-power workforce by 2020.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development will offer new incentives for solar power in public housing projects, according to the White House. The Energy Department also will set new standards for electric motors and walk-in coolers and freezers designed to cut down on harmful carbon emissions, White House officials said.

Combined with the executive steps Mr. Obama already has taken to cut carbon emissions — namely, revamping fuel efficiency standards and cracking down on coal-fired power plants — Friday’s actions are meant to show the president is serious about tackling climate change in his second term.

“The commitments we’re announcing today prove there are cost-effective ways to tackle climate change and create jobs at the same time.” Mr. Obama said.

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