The federal finding that climate pollution hurts public health is not the only reason society should step up efforts to combat climate change, write guest columnists Steve Reynolds and K.C. Golden. A stronger economic recovery will occur with such investment.
THE Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that climate pollution endangers public health and welfare is a welcome step. The Obama administration deserves credit for moving quickly to respond to the climate challenge. But we have to do much more than just enforce existing laws like the Clean Air Act to deliver real climate solutions. We must build a new, stronger energy economy — one that increases our use of clean, renewable energy, improves energy productivity, and provides good jobs and prosperity for the long haul.
Representing different interests and viewpoints, we two authors can debate various policy mechanisms and features. But on this much we agree:
Congress and the administration need to deliver a strong national climate and energy policy framework, including: responsible, science-based limits on climate pollution; standards and incentives to increase energy conservation, renewable energy, and smart new energy technologies that improve efficiency; training and transition assistance for good jobs in a new energy economy; consumer protections to ensure that everyone can afford basic energy service; and international leadership in climate negotiations.
Those who urge delay while the economy recovers are missing the point. Accelerating the transition to cleaner energy solutions will keep energy dollars home, drive economic recovery and sustain American employment and prosperity. Now more than ever, we need the economic power of a new energy strategy.
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The good news is that private companies and government agencies in our region are already demonstrating that these strategies can and do work. Energy efficiency and renewable power initiatives are creating new jobs, boosting local tax revenues and making our economy stronger. Producing energy cleanly, and using it wisely, will help us tackle global warming and position our region to be competitive. We’re already seeing the benefits, from businesses cutting energy costs to small towns where renewable energy delivers fresh opportunity after decades of job losses.
Our successes to date give us confidence that we can do much more. We can substantially reduce our fossil-fuel dependence while improving economic performance going forward. New thinking about energy can provide a powerful new driver for regional prosperity, just as aerospace, medicine and information technology have.
EPA’s action signals the Obama administration’s real determination to move forward. And the economic-recovery package will jump-start promising clean-energy initiatives. But the transition to a new energy future requires sustained focus and long-term investment. Government can’t pay for it all.
Where will the investment come from? Most of it should come from our energy dollars — the billions our economy loses by using energy inefficiently and importing fossil fuels. More than $16 billion drained out of Washington’s economy last year to pay for fossil fuels, primarily oil.
We need to keep that money here. Let’s commit to reinvesting more of our energy dollars in our local economy — tightening our buildings, providing real transportation choices (cleaner cars and better alternatives to cars), developing clean energy, building a smart energy network, substituting clean electricity for petroleum, and providing good green jobs. We’re proving these solutions work in our communities now; we’re ready to step it up to deliver solutions as big as our energy and climate challenges.
To provide a strong foundation under this transition, Congress needs to move forward decisively with a clear public-policy commitment to reduce fossil-fuel dependence, build the clean-energy economy, and deliver real climate solutions in a cost-effective manner.
America’s workers and businesses can and will do most of the heavy lifting to build a new, stronger, clean-energy economy. But the federal government needs to stand and deliver a climate and energy policy that reduces our fossil-fuel dependence and unleashes our power to build and innovate. Now’s the time.
Steve Reynolds, left, is CEO of Puget Sound Energy. K.C. Golden is policy director for Climate Solutions.