Mitt Romney Likes to Fire People

Mitt Romney has once again reminded voters that he likes to fire people. On Sunday, he told Fox News he would fire three top Obama administration leaders because he says “they are on a mission to drive up the price of gasoline.”

Romney called the leaders — Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson — “the gas-hike trio” and said they should be summarily dismissed.

Yet for all his executive bravado, Romney’s claim that three Obama officials have caused gas prices to soar is as off base as Newt Gingrich’s promise to deliver $2-a-gallon gasoline.

I expected more market savvy from the candidate who claims to be the self-proclaimed business authority.

Does Romney really not understand the basic dynamics at work in the global oil market? Tensions in Iran and unrest in Syria is prompting Wall Street speculators to bet on higher prices. Meanwhile, demand in China India, and Brazil continues to grow, which is not surprising considering the number of cars in China alone has tripled in the last five years.

These are the primary forces that shape oil prices. Neither Secretary Chu’s efforts to promote American clean energy innovation nor Administrator Jackson’s work to make our air safer to breathe has the ability to inform those prices. Not even Secretary Salazar’s drive to open more lands for drilling and sell more offshore leases can do it.

We know because the number of oi rigs operating in the United States has risen more than 80 percent in the past 3 years and nearly 150 percent from 10 years ago. Last year alone, the United States produced more oil than any time since 2003. Yet all this activity couldn’t protect Americans from having to pay $4 a gallon at the pump last spring.

Canada already lives with this painful truth. It is one of the world’s largest producers of oil, yet its gas prices rise and fall just like ours do.

The only way to insulate ourselves from price spikes is to use less oil. The new fuel economy standards President Obama proposed, for instance, will help reduce our oil dependence. Within 20 years, better-performing cars will save drivers more than $80 billion a year at the pump while cutting our oil use by more than we imported from Saudi Arabia and Iraq in 2010.

Bus rapid transit lines, light rail, and other transit options already save America 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline every year. If we extended mass transit options to more communities, we will generate greater savings — in oil and money.

And yet these solutions never appear in Romney’s gas-price plan. Instead, he belittles renewable energy by turning into a punch line. Last week he started saying that President Obama “keeps talking about alternative energy; the real thing we need is an alternative president.” On Sunday, said Chu, Salazar, and Jackson are driving up gasoline prices “so they finally get their solar and their wind to be more price-competitive.”

It’s interesting that Romney thinks solar and wind energy belongs to the Obama Administration. In fact, wind and solar resources belong to all Americans and developing these infinite stores of energy will benefit our national interest.

American engineers are already at work designing the next generation of solar panels that will dominate the global market. Nearly 200,000 Americans work in the wind and solar industries, helping revive our pride in the “Made in America” label. And all our families benefit from relying on energy that releases zero pollution and causes none of the asthma or heart attacks that fossil fuels do.

Romney would have us turn our backs on these benefits. In my view, a candidate who would sell American innovators short and disparage one of the fastest growing sectors of our economy is the one who might find himself in need of a job instead of handing out pink slips.

GOP Presidential Candidates Fail to Recognize what GE Knows: Climate Solutions Generate Growth

Unfortunately, the energy talk on the GOP campaign trail remains dominated by climate denial.  Rick Santorum, the winner of the latest two GOP primaries, wrote an op-ed over the weekend in which he called climate change “a pseudo-science” and “a liberal orthodoxy.”

Mitt Romney said last week that he had once been a “radical” on energy issues because he supported measures to cut carbon pollution. Now, he assured voters, “we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet.”

Some in the radical wing of the Republican Party lap up comments like these, but luckily, executives in corporate American haven’t been listening. Instead, the smart ones have been making money and creating jobs based on real solutions to climate change.

General Electric (GE), for instance, was in the news this week after it released its 2011 Annual Report.  GE has spent several years positioning itself as an innovator in low-carbon technologies. Now the sustainable arm of the company — called ecoimagination — has generated $100 billion in revenues and is growing at more than twice the rate of the rest of the company, according to Mark Vachon, the vice president of eco-imagination.

Let’s be clear: GE isn’t squeaky clean. It is completely or partially liable for at least 78 federal Superfund sites. NRDC had to sue it for years just to make it start cleaning up PCBs from the Hudson River.  

GE didn’t invest in climate solutions because it is home to a bunch of treehuggers. They did it because it is good for business. Vachon said GE’s sustainable strategy means “we’re viewed as relevant in the world.” What does that make the climate denying politicians? Trouble is America and American workers could become irrelevant too if one of these candidates wins the White House and creates a national policy of climate denial and fossil fuel dependence.

Our country could miss the boat. Global investments in clean energy reached a record $243 billion last year. Solar photovoltaic systems alone have a global market worth of more than $80 billion. Clean energy investments are forecast to grow by hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming decades.

“Is the US electorate willing to allow the competitive edge on technology to go to China or to Europe, or would they prefer to be the leaders of technology? That is a question that they need to answer,” Christiana Figueres, the official who leads the UN secretariat in charge of global climate negotiations, said at a news conference last Friday.  
Not one of the GOP candidates has been talking about the power of clean energy to create jobs and give American companies a competitive advantage. Yet the Solar Energy Industries Association just reported that U.S. solar panel installation surged 109 percent over the past year and the average cost of the panels has dropped 50 percent. Meanwhile, 35 percent of all new power built in the U.S. in the last four years has come from wind energy. This new wind power will provide as much power as nine nuclear power plants.  
GE CEO Jeff Immelt said the company has made a “boatload of money” in the wind business. He thinks wind and solar power will play a major role in America’s energy future. He also recognizes that oil and gas will be around for awhile too, so he is also expanding GE’s investment in those fuels as well. His approach sounds an awful lot like what some call an “all of the above” approach to energy development. Except Immelt includes clean energy in his plan, while some lawmakers either ignore it or disparage it.
This kind of negative political pandering has serious consequences. “I worry that the mood of the times prevents us from moving forward,” Immelt said recently.
While GOP candidates are boasting about their climate denial, other nations are nurturing their clean energy sectors. In 30 years, will we be selling clean technologies to those countries or will we be buying it from them? I’d put my money on the CEO who can envision a clean energy future instead of the candidates who have their heads stuck in the sand.

The Power of Running on Clean Energy — Even for GOP Candidates

Super Tuesday turned out to be Groundhog Day: Three candidates saw their shadows and winter could last for six more months. The presidential nomination process may be grinding on, but Congressional races are starting to heat up.

Candidates are zeroing on their messages, and at a time when jobs are scarce and gas prices are high, smart candidates are discovering the power of running on clean energy.

Even some Republican candidates are promising to deliver clean energy to their constituents.

Nevada Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, for instance, is a Tea Party darling who has followed the GOP leadership’s attack on environmental safeguards. Yet he has also been a staunch supporter of clean energy development in his state.

Why the apparent contradiction? Location, location, location.

Nevada is home to both record unemployment and enormous clean energy reserves. The state suffered some of the worst fallout of the housing bust, and anyone running for office since the financial meltdown has needed a laser-like focus on jobs in order to win.

Green jobs are the low-hanging fruit. Nevada currently has over 16,500 jobs in the clean economy — 33 percent more than the oil and gas sector in the state. Between 2003 and 2010, Nevada added 5,411 clean jobs, meaning that the sector grew nearly 6 percent annually even through one of the toughest economic periods in decades.

This growth won’t be slowing down anytime soon. According to a recent Ernst and Young study, Nevada is the fifth most promising state for geothermal and solar power. And a recent SNL energy project database found that construction has begun on 10 solar, geothermal and wind projects, creating jobs, cutting pollution and reducing our dependence on foreign energy.

Yet in 2010, Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle made the mistake of disparaging clean energy and calling green jobs a “scam“. She lost her race to Harry Reid.

Harry Reid, meanwhile, put clean energy jobs at the heart of his campaign. “We highlighted it in everything we did whether it was through our mail program, TV program, Internet program,” said Reid’s campaign manager Brandon Hall. “It was always the message that we led with.”

Reid’s campaign research found that voters were basing vote on how much Reid had done for the state. Clean energy, Hall explained, “was one of the top issues he was able to leverage his leadership position to benefit Nevada. There was investment coming into Nevada in clean energy. And jobs were being created. For us, it was our top-testing issue.”

NRDC’s Action Fund’s analysis confirms that supporting clean energy gives candidates an advantage. It offers a positive, solutions-based narrative to talk about issues that matter most to Americans: jobs, the economy, gas prices, and the health of their families.

Heller seems to agree. One of his campaign emails trumpets the fact that Heller “has long fought to bring a variety of sources of renewable energy to Nevada.”

And it’s true; he has. He voted for a renewable energy standard and has been a supporter of renewable energy production tax credit. He voted to extend royalties and lease income from solar and wind projects and to expedite clean energy development on public lands. He even sent a letter to President Obama in support of the White House’s clean energy plan and its ability to create jobs.

At the same time, Heller voted with GOP leadership on a raft of bills that would strip away clean air safeguards and make life easier for dirty coal-fired power plants. He also voted in favor of taxpayer subsidies for oil companies.

Some of the measures Heller opposed would have helped level the playing field between dirty fossil fuels and clean energy resources. It would benefit Nevada if Heller cast more votes on the clean side.

He wouldn’t be the only Republican to do so. Last month, 21 Republican representatives voted against a GOP-sanctioned transportation bill that would have allowed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and up and down the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts.

These Republican lawmakers seem to realize voters are looking for more than the same-old drill-happy approach to energy development. Instead, voters want innovation, new investment, and job opportunities.

I don’t agree with a lot of Heller’s votes on the environment, but I respect his commitment to clean energy. His track record shows that even Tea Party favorites can deliver clean energy jobs for their constituents.

Newt’s 30-Minute Energy Infomercial: 29 minutes Too Long

On Sunday, GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich released a video of himself talking about energy policy. Clocking in at 28 minutes and 59 seconds, I can tell you that the video lasts about 28 minutes and 56 seconds too long. That’s because the entire message can be summed up in just three words:

“Drill, baby, drill.”

I suppose Newt’s not known for being concise. Instead, Newt spent nearly 30 minutes detailing why America needs ever more oil, ever more gas, and ever more drilling. But, Newt willfully ignores the most important piece of the energy puzzle: climate change.

As one of my friends put it, “Newt sounds like a drunken sailor who cannot pass up one more slug after last call. Drilling-here and drilling-there will only perpetuate our oil addiction and delay our transition to a green and prosperous economy fueled by renewable sources of energy. And no café standards? What does he drive -– a model T? America has seen his backward vision for America and we rejected it two decades ago.”

Newt wraps up his pro-drilling lecture by saying, “And I think with that energy future, we’re going to have a better quality of life, a better economy, better national security, and take a big step toward balancing the federal budget.”

I share those goals. But, climate change threatens those objectives. Quality of life will be threatened by risk of illness and death from extreme heat. By 2100, just a handful of global warming impacts could cost the U.S. economy $1.9 trillion annually. The Pentagon knows that climate change is a threat multiplier that will harm our national security and contribute to instability across the globe.

We can aim to have it all, but not without addressing climate change.

Newt and I do agree on another thing. Throughout his feature film, Newt alludes to American innovation, science and technology as the tools to get to a dramatically different energy future. He’s right. But we need to apply that innovation and entrepreneurship to developing and scaling new clean energy technologies, not just to digging deeper for dead dinosaurs.

So, save yourself 30 minutes. Don’t watch the video. Instead, spend those 30 minutes soaking up the beautiful and unusually warm winter weather we’re experiencing. And contemplate the less fun consequences of the unchecked warming that “drill, baby, drill” will bring.

In Defense of Public Lands

By Matt Skoglund of NRDC’s Bozeman, MT office. This blog was first published in the Bozeman Magpie on February 23, 2012.

In the past few months, several of the remaining candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have made shocking comments about the value of public lands in America.

Mitt Romney said, “I haven’t studied it, what the purpose is of the land…. Unless there’s a valid, and legitimate, and compelling governmental purpose, I don’t know why the government owns so much of this land. So I haven’t studied it, what the purpose is of the land.”

At a campaign stop in Idaho, Rick Santorum said, “There’s a lot of land out there that is land that can and should be managed by stewards who care about that land…. The federal government doesn’t care about it, they don’t care about this land…. We need to get it back into the hands of the states and even to the private sector. And we can make money doing it, we can make money doing it by selling it.”

And Ron Paul noted that he wants “as much federal land to be turned over to the state as possible” and “for the best parts sold off to private owners.”

Mustering a Seth Meyers impersonation from Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, I ask, “Really?

As recreationists on public lands (a huge collective that includes, among others, skiers, anglers, hunters, trail-runners, wildlife-watchers, mountain-bikers, climbers, backpackers, and hikers—or, in other words, pretty much all of Bozeman), you should be outraged. The public lands that surround Bozeman are the lifeblood of our town. The Gallatins, Bridgers, Madisons, Absarokas, a little park called Yellowstone; imagine if they were privately owned by a few oil barons? This is not hyperbole; privatization and profit are the underlying themes of their comments.

Through decades of public service devotion and good fortune, those millions of acres belong to all of us, and we benefit greatly from them. After living here for a couple of years, a friend of mine noted, “I make a lot less money in Bozeman, but I feel so much wealthier here.” I could not agree more, as, regardless of your income status, our spectacular public lands make all of us filthy rich. (I’m referring only to the aesthetic value of our public lands, which doesn’t even begin to quantify the massive economic impact of such lands in our region.)

I own a small patch of dirt a few blocks north of Main Street, but pretty much every weekend I’m out doing something on public land or a public river. I cannot fathom the loss of such access; it’s why I live here. And I’m not alone.

Today, our public lands are more important than ever. With smartphones, Facebook, iPads, and Twitter, our minds are so over-stimulated we can barely hear ourselves think. Yet, whenever we need to “get out,” our public lands are there, waiting for us. With more people vying for space and a variety of uses on our public lands, can you imagine selling off even a few trailheads? Imagine if, this summer, Sourdough Canyon, the upper Madison or the Bangtails were suddenly off-limits?

The irony is that as much as Santorum, Romney, and Paul want to portray themselves as apple-pie-eating American patriots, by questioning the value of our public lands or promoting their privatization, they sound like proud European aristocrats. Against the gold standard of America, our European counterparts have far less public land to enjoy. Opportunities to fish and hunt –beloved Montana pastimes — are seriously limited. In Montana, you can buy a fishing license and then wade or float any river in the state. Just as easily, you can buy an elk-hunting license and chase wapiti in any mountain range.

Not so in Europe.

I have been fortunate enough to fly-fish in Ireland and Scotland. Both countries are spectacular, but it’s a pain in the arse to fish over there. You have to first find out who owns a particular river or section of river, and then you have to pay to rent that section for the day (or sometimes for the week, if that’s the minimum). Depending on the river or time of year, it can get bloody expensive.

While I have loved my trips across the pond (I’m a sucker for wild Atlantic salmon and dimly lit pubs), each trip has made me more grateful for America’s public lands and rivers. Simply put, we’re really lucky, but we need to protect what we have.

Santorum’s comment about a federal government that doesn’t care for public land is an ill-considered insult to the many thousands of federal employees working hard to maintain our public lands. In the greater Bozeman area, we have plenty of neighbors that work for the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service — people who have devoted their careers to our public lands. Santorum’s comment was an undeserved slap in the face, and this from a guy aspiring to be their ultimate boss.

Lastly, there’s the unintended irony of their statements as three guys desperately trying to “out-conservative” one another. In fact, their chosen words could not be more un-conservative. A true conservative would speak about the importance of conserving our public lands. Questioning the inherent value of the land or proposing to sell them to the highest-bidding natural gas company runs contrary to the belief system they claim to represent. Conservative. Conservation. Conserve.

America’s public lands are a treasure and the envy of the world. We need leaders that talk about how they are going to defend our public lands, not how they can sell them off to make a quick buck.

Photo Credit: Dan Skoglund