Obama Unveils Plan to Tackle Climate Change, Walmart Speech Location Draws Criticism


President Obama announced new steps today to cut carbon emissions, promote energy efficiency and boost solar power, saying the efforts aren't just good for the environment but also good for the bottom line.

"The commitments that we're announcing today prove that there are cost-effective ways to tackle climate change and create jobs at the same time," he said, speaking at a Walmart in California.

"So often when we hear about how we're going to deal with this really serious issue, people say we can't afford to do it. It won't be good for the economy. It will be good for the economy long term," he said, as he stood between racks of clothing and discounted energy efficient light bulbs.

In addition to outlining a series of executive actions intended to tackle climate change while circumventing congressional opposition, the president announced that more than 300 organizations, including companies such as Home Depot and Apple, have pledged to expand their use of solar energy.

"No matter where you live or where you do business, solar is getting cheaper and it's getting easier to use than before. And with more businesses and rural cooperatives and homes choosing solar, prices keep coming down, manufacturers keep getting more innovative and more jobs are created," he said.

Obama today became the first sitting U.S. president to visit a Walmart in an official capacity, a move that has drawn harsh criticism.

"Walmart is one of the nation's largest and worst employers - low wages, unreliable hours, few benefits, discrimination against women, and anti-union," former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote in a Facebook post. "What numbskull in the White House arranged this?"

As the president spoke inside, hundreds of former Walmart workers and union representatives demonstrated outside.

The White House chose the Mountain View, Calif., store as the location for today's speech because of its recent efforts to become more energy efficient, officials said.

As the president explained, "a few years ago, you decided to put solar panels on the roof of the store. You replaced some traditional light bulbs with LEDs. … You even put in a charging station for electric vehicles. And all told, those upgrades created dozens of construction jobs and helped this store save money on its energy bills."

"And that's why I'm here today, because more and more companies like Walmart are realizing that wasting less energy isn't just good for the planet, it's good for business, it's good for the bottom line," the president added.

Timed to the speech, the White House announced the completed installation of American-made solar panels as a part of an energy retrofit of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. - a project that was four years in the making. This is not the first time that solar panels have graced the White House roof. President Carter was the first to install them, but they were later removed by President Reagan.

"The project, which helps demonstrate that historic buildings can incorporate solar energy and energy efficiency upgrades, is estimated to pay for itself in energy savings over the next eight years," the White House said.