Whitman & Peterson: Climate Bill Should Top the Congress' To-Do List

As Congress approaches the August recess, our economy, energy and environmental security needs still top the to-do list of the president and Congress. This summer the Center for Climate Strategies and the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition have outlined how Congress can put a national strategy in place that gets all three on the same page: by passing comprehensive national climate change and energy policy that reflects our best policy options for immediate action.

[IMGCAP(1)]By implementing policies that jointly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve homegrown and advanced energy solutions, and save precious energy and capital, Congress could move us toward a cleaner and more secure energy future, while creating jobs and growing the economy.

A study released last week by the Center for Climate Strategies identified 23 major sector-based policies that, if implemented as part of national policy, could add as many as 2.5 million net new jobs and $134.3 billion to the economy by 2020 while holding down energy prices and reducing harmful greenhouse gases to meet national targets.

The specific actions recommended in this report were identified after examining 16 comprehensive state climate action plans that the center helped develop through consensus building and input from more than 1,500 technical experts and stakeholders across the U.S. over the past five years.

This bottom-up strategy ensured that all available options were considered, that they were carefully analyzed, and that the most effective and acceptable were implemented.

The 23 actions the center identified include new clean energy sources for heat and power; improved energy efficiency and industrial processes; transportation and land use improvements; agriculture and forestry conservation; and expanded recycling and waste energy recovery. They were chosen because they have the potential to reduce pollution, they are cost-effective and improve energy, health, environment and economic development. They would be implemented through federal, state and local action under a national framework that sets the stage for longer-term strategies.

The Clean and Safe Energy Coalition's "Policy Roadmap for Clean Energy" takes a similar broad-based portfolio approach to supporting clean energy technologies — including wind, solar and nuclear energy — while placing a premium on each industry's potential for job creation and broader economic development.

The road map makes broad policy recommendations to chart a viable course for a sustainable clean energy policy, including the following:

1. Enact policies to take control of America's energy security.

Ninety-five percent of the country's transportation infrastructure is powered by oil, and more than half of it is imported. Federal support for electric and hybrid vehicles is a good start to avert this dependency, but those vehicles will only be as clean as their electricity source. The current electric grid won't be able to handle large volumes of renewable energy technologies unless it's modernized.

2. Ensure access to financing for clean energy projects.

Access to capital is the biggest hurdle for clean energy developers. Credit is still tight and private investors are leery of financing large infrastructure projects without guaranteed rates of return. Federal incentives, such as clean energy loan guarantees, help ease access to capital markets and ultimately reduce the cost of electricity to consumers.

3. Increase investment in clean energy jobs.

Training a new generation of workers is vital because much of the clean energy industry's work force will be eligible to retire during the next decade. Tens of thousands of clean energy jobs could be created if all the clean energy projects are supported. Nearly 1,000 workers are engaged in pre-construction activities for new nuclear reactors in Georgia and South Carolina alone. Federal job-training grants are critical to ensure that eligible companies in the clean energy supply chain will be able to fill high-paying jobs with American workers.

If state and local leaders and thousands of their stakeholders across the nation can find a pathway to a comprehensive energy and climate policy at the subnational level, surely Congress can do the same for our nation.

Both the Center for Climate Strategies report and Clean and Safe Energy Coalition policy recommendations conclude that a broad-based energy portfolio, with a focus on low-carbon sources, is essential to America's energy, environmental and economic transition. Without policy direction now, we will cede U.S. leadership in developing these clean energy sources to other nations and miss an opportunity to begin implementing game-changing energy technology.

Christine Todd Whitman is the former Republican governor of New Jersey and former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. She is a co-chairman of the industry-funded Clean and Safe Energy Coalition. Thomas D. Peterson is the president and CEO of the Center for Climate Strategies and a teaching fellow in governmental studies at Johns Hopkins University.

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