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The politics of clean energy

In the immediate aftermath of the recent mid-term elections here in the States, pundits focused their attention on the shift of power in the Senate and the implications on key issues such as health care, immigration reform and the broader US economy. But what’s also at stake is the future direction of America’s clean energy policy, with so much riding on the ability of a reshaped Congress now controlled by Republicans to work with the Obama Administration on both pending and newly implemented clean energy initiatives. 

Early signs point to a contentious battle. Take, as an example, the recent announcement that the US and China had formed an agreement to jointly reduce emissions from carbon pollution. The ink was barely dry on the contract before Congressional Republicans voiced their displeasure. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) denounced the agreement with China as “the latest example of the president’s crusade against affordable, reliable energy that is already hurting jobs and squeezing middle-class families.” More telling, the House Speaker pledged that Republicans would continue to make blocking Obama’s energy policies a priority for the rest of his term.

The primary Republican strategy is to delay implementation of EPA’s proposed rule to limit greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, which is set to become final next June. Rather than pushing for an outright reversal of the rule before it’s finalized, Senate Republicans are looking at passing language that would give states the option of not complying with the EPA mandate until litigation on the issue is resolved, or bar federal authorities from enforcing the rule, according to a Washington Post article. 

Prominent clean energy figures, including Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), are hoping cooler heads will prevail. Specifically, he urged Republicans, Democrats and Independents to take a more “collaborative approach” to solving many of the nation’s pressing problems.

“As a national association of leading businesses  –  with more than 1,000 member companies located in 48 states  –  we remain completely committed to finding common-sense ways to create new jobs, stimulate economic development, remove market barriers and improve our nation’s energy security,” Resch stated. “With the elections now behind us, it’s critically important for our leaders in Washington, as well as our state capitals, to put aside their differences and work together to find real solutions that will grow our economy and put more people to work.” 

Resch cited polls that show that 9 out of 10 Americans want to see an expanded use of solar energy nationwide.  He also pointed to stable, consistent and reliable public policies which are paying huge dividends for the US economy and the environment, namely the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and Net Energy Metering (NEM).

It’s policies and programs like these that need further nurturing, not neglect, observers say.
Aaron Severn, Senior Director, Federal Legislative Affairs for Power of Wind, is in the midst of an aggressive campaign to persuade Congress to extend what he also calls two “common-sense” energy policies – the production tax credit and investment tax credit. If they are not extended, Severn warns we could repeat what happened last year: when Congress let the policies lapse, the US wind industry felt the impact.

Further political gridlock and discord on this issue could potentially result in erosion of investor confidence in the clean energy sector and have a deleterious effect on existing projects as well as those in the pipeline. And if that happens, we all stand to lose big — regardless of our respective political affiliations.   

Posted 09/01/2015 by Reg Tucker

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