Forty-five senators have sent a letter to the nation’s 50 governors with forward-thinking principles about what America’s energy future could look like. These senators argue that national energy policies should spur investment in our energy infrastructure to provide all Americans with affordable, reliable and cleaner energy, and cut carbon pollution to address the impacts of climate change many communities are already experiencing.
They propose five guiding principles: Investing in clean energy, empowering consumers, modernizing infrastructure, cutting carbon pollution and waste, and investing in research and development that will guarantee that US businesses can compete in the global marketplace as we develop the next generation of energy technologies and services.
This is an important moment. Our national energy policies haven’t been updated for nearly a decade, and much has changed. Costs are plunging for installing wind and solar power. Clean energy companies are innovating like mad.
The senators are leading our country in the right direction. We can indeed reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, while creating clean energy and a bevy of sustainable jobs in America.
They’re also taking the right approach by inviting the governors to offer ideas for improvement, and then to work in partnership on federal and state energy policies with a shared goal a goal of a clean energy future.
How do these principles align with proposed policy?
Investing in clean energy: Congress should pass a long-term extension of the federal Production Tax Credit, a modest incentive that has steadily driven wind energy development — and the creation of good paying jobs across the country. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report showing that without federal or state incentives, development of wind projects that generate renewable power would drop.
Empowering consumers: The Senate should promote more energy efficiency. Dollar for dollar, investing in smarter energy use is the cheapest, quickest way to reduce carbon pollution — by reducing demand for energy — and to help make workers more productive.
Several proposals on the table would help capture these benefits, including Senator Coons, Collins, Reed and Shaheen’s weatherization and efficiency bill (S.703), Senator Warner and Manchin’s proposal to establish a competitive program to help states improve energy productivity (S. 893), and Senator Franken’s American Energy Efficiency Act.
Modernizing infrastructure: There’s a tremendous opportunity to upgrade the nation’s aging energy transmission infrastructure to make it smarter, cleaner and safer in ways that will benefit our economy and put a more sound foundation beneath our energy system. The Senate should focus on proposals like Senator Shaheen’s Clean Distributed Energy Grid Integration Act (S.1201), Senator Hirono’s Next Generation Electric Systems Act (S.1207), and Senator Wyden’s Smart Grid Act (S.1232), which would create jobs and lay the grid foundation for the future.
Cutting pollution and waste: Congress should advance legislation that increases clean, efficient vehicles and a clean alternative fuel structure like Senator Peter’s Vehicle Innovation Act (S. 1408). At the same time, it should walk away from new fossil fuel production that keeps us tethered to the dirty fuels that harm our health and ruin our climate.
Investing in research and development: Continued support is needed for the US Energy Department-backed research into next-generation electric machines, manufacturing and renewable energy materials, and in fostering the development of innovative clean energy technologies, as well as Small Business Innovation Research that supports small business scientific discoveries.
The senators appealing vision could help put us on the road to better jobs, less pollution, cleaner energy and improved health. That’s the road to a more hopeful future, and we need to steer onto it now.
Peter Lehner is the executive director of NRDC. The position is his second at NRDC. Beginning in 1994, he led the Clean Water Program for five years, before leaving in 1999 to serve as the head of the Environmental Protection Bureau for the Attorney General of the State of New York.