Howard Learner in National Journal: What Should Obama Administration Do on Climate Change? Advance Policies that Spur Innovation!

JANUARY 28, 2013 1:31 PM

Advance Policies that Spur Innovation

By Howard A. Learner

Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

Advancing climate change solutions is America’s economic growth opportunity to lead global investment and advances in clean energy development and technological innovations. It’s also our moral obligation for the next generations’ vitality. Here are five key ways that the Obama Administration and Congress can move solutions forward:

First, Congress should extend the federal wind power production tax credit (PTC) for a reasonable period of time (with phase-down) in order for America to continue capturing the job creation, economic growth and greenhouse gas pollution reduction benefits from modern wind power development. The short-term PTC extension in the fiscal cliff deal will spur manufacturing orders and project development. However, stability and predictability is needed, as wind power blade and turbine technologies and better siting techniques improve operating capacity factors. The on-again, off-again PTC uncertainty discourages investment, costs jobs and weakens American clean energy leadership.

Second, solar PV and battery storage technological advances are energy market game changers that can accelerate greenhouse gas pollution reductions. Federal R&D and commercialization support for breakthrough renewable energy technological innovations is vital for America’s economic future and global leadership. The Federal government should not shortchange R&D that can spur solar and battery improvements, which can both modernize America’s energy grid system and be exported to developing countries to help solve global climate change problems while upgrading living conditions for many.

Third, energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest solution to addressing energy needs and pollution problems. The “quiet revolution” in energy efficiency is holding down electricity demand and reducing pollution, saving residential and business consumers money on their utility bills, creating good installation jobs, and boosting local economies as people spend their energy savings at Main Street businesses across the nation. The Obama Administration and Congress should keep advancing the U.S. DOE appliance efficiency standards and the U.S. EPA’s Energy Star program, which are working well in spurring progress, along with billions of dollars of energy efficiency program investments in the states and the private sector’s efficiency technology advances. LED lighting improvements over the next few years are another energy market game changer that can significantly reduce electricity demand and carbon pollution, while saving consumers money.

Fourth, let’s seize transportation sector opportunities for climate change solutions. The federal clean car and truck standards adopted during President Obama’s first term are a big step forward. Modernizing the rail system to accelerate high-speed rail development can improve mobility, reduce greenhouse gas pollution, create jobs and spur economic growth. Modernizing public transit for urban, suburban and rural communities requires investment in Congress’ next transportation reauthorization legislation. Improving transportation mobility and accessibility can be achieved together with reducing carbon pollution.

Fifth, the U.S. EPA has proceeded thoughtfully and carefully with its responsibilities for the important greenhouse gas pollution reduction standards. It’s now more than five years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA. It’s now time for EPA to fully move forward in advancing and accomplishing all of the necessary rulemakings in a fair, legal and balanced manner. The EPA must also have sufficient funding to effectively implement and enforce its Clean Air Act (and Clean Water Act and other statutory) responsibilities. Elections have consequences. The partisan attacks on EPA did not persuade a majority of American voters and electors. Unless Congressional opponents can muster the votes – unlikely, it seems, for now – to change the Clean Air Act or enact a replacement carbon tax mechanism, then EPA must move forward and be appropriated sufficient resources to do its job fairly, reasonably and well to achieve cleaner air, cleaner water and greenhouse gas pollution reductions for public health, safety and welfare.


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