GOP Responses to State of the Union Lack Vision for Energy Future

President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to a clean energy future for America last night in his State of the Union Address. The Republican responses, on the other hand, underscored just how stuck in the past the leaders of the GOP remain.

From Indiana Governor Mitch Daniel’s official response to the statements of the Party’s Presidential candidates, not one Republican leaders offered any vision or plan for how America can innovate, create technological breakthroughs, or lead the global clean energy market. One would think they live in some perverse, parallel universe.

President Obama offered a detailed blueprint for how a national clean energy standard, energy efficiency programs, tax credits for wind and solar projects, government support of advanced research, and other measures could create jobs and make America more energy independent.

Frances Beinecke, President of the NRDC Action Fund, states, “More than 100,000 people currently work in the solar industry, according to the National Solar Jobs Census. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the wind industry employs 85,000 Americans. And more than 150,000 Americans currently have jobs making parts for and assembling clean cars — hybrids, electric cars, and other advanced vehicles that hardly existed 10 years ago.”

Neither Daniels nor Romney mentioned these enormous opportunities. Instead, they stuck to the same old call for more drilling. That’s their default button.

Funny thing was President Obama already beat them to it. Much to our concern, energy companies drilled almost 21,000 oil wells in the first eight months of 2011 — the highest number in almost 30 years. That’s nearly double the amount drilling the same period in 2010, and nearly triple the number drilled in 2009.

Yet all that drilling hasn’t shielded us from price spikes. In 2011, the United States produced more oil than at any time since 2003, and yet gas prices still hit record highs. Oil prices are set on an international market and shaped by global forces beyond our control. We can’t rely on fossil fuels alone to power our economy. We need to develop additional homegrown resources like better performing cars, sustainable biofuels, and wind and solar power.

Americans agree. Nine in ten Americans — including 82 percent of Republicans and 91 percent of Independents — say developing renewable energy should be a priority for the president and Congress. But Republican leaders haven’t caught on yet.

In his response to the State of the Union Address, Romney made no reference to renewable power, efficiency, or any other clean solution. Daniels didn’t either. In fact, most of the Republicans focused on President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline last week — repeatedly misstating that this decision cost “tens of thousands of jobs.” The truth is that Keystone XL would’ve created a few thousand jobs (only a few hundred permanent jobs) and the bulk of the oil would have been exported to other countries. But my bigger beef with this reasoning is — if Republicans are so concerned about jobs? Why are they fighting the very public safeguards that will create millions of new positions? Frances Beinecke once again points out that, “public health and environmental standards create jobs at the same time they protect our families from polluters… The number of Americans working as boilermakers grew by 35 percent between 1999 and 2001 because of updates in Clean Air Act standards. Taken together, the environmental technology sector has generated more than 1.7 million American jobs as of 2008.” Why are those few thousand temporary jobs more important to the GOP then millions of good-paying jobs that can never be outsourced and will bring energy right here to our backyard?

Daniels misjudged the public on another key issue when he inserted a dig about light bulbs into his speech. This was a reference to the efficiency standard for light bulbs that will save consumers $10 million a year and that Congress and President Bush supported four years ago. I welcome a little humor in political discourse, but when Daniels mocked this standard, he sounded remarkably out of step. These light bulbs help prevent the need for 30 large power plans and all the pollution they generate. This helps make our families healthier.

Further, at a time when so many families are struggling, Daniels decides to ridicule a measure that will lower monthly utility bills. Just one company in Ohio Florida — Lighting Science Group — has saved Americans more then $34 million in electricity costs each year. The new standards will result in a savings of more then $12 billion per year in the form of lower electric bills. My family members — most of them are conservative Republicans — would never make fun of saving money because they value their hard-earned dollars.

This just another example of how out-of-touch Republican leaders are when it comes to energy. Most Americans want to save money on electric bills, drive cars that go farther on a gallon of gas, and expand clean energy. Today’s crop of Republican leaders doesn’t have anything to offer them.

Most Americans want to save money on electric bills, drive cars that go farther on a gallon of gas, and expand clean energy. Last night, this current crop of Republican leaders demonstrated anew that they have nothing to offer but the same dog-eared roadmap for the race to the bottom.

Amended on 1/31/12 to correct the location of Lighting Science Group.

President Obama Doubles Down on Clean Energy

I just finished watching the GOP primary debate in South Carolina. It was a pretty entertaining two hours which kicked off with Newt Gingrich admonishing CNN for daring ask a question about his personal question (um, didn’t he try to impeach a President over something personal?) and ended with all candidates agreeing that any of them would be better then the guy in office now. But what I found most interesting was not what they talked about – but what was missing. Where was energy?

Governor Romney made one attempt to talk energy when trying to deflect criticism for not releasing his taxes but besides that, there wasn’t a lot of talk about what will be a central part of our future.

President Obama demonstrated bold leadership this week when he rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. Some are trying to marginalize the Keystone decision by saying Obama made it to please wacko environmentalists. Newt Gingrich went so far as to say, “President Obama has made it clear once again that he is committed to Saul Alinksy radicalism at the expense of working Americans.”

The trouble is that the people lined up against the pipeline don’t fit into a radical box. Republican lawmakers in Nebraska, ranchers and farmers from the Heartland, security hawks in the Armed Forces, and religious leaders from across the country don’t count themselves among the extreme left. They are simply Americans who don’t think a dirty pipeline to export Canadian oil to Asia markets is in our national interest.

GOP leaders have also tried to turn the Keystone decision into a jobs issue, but they can’t even agree on the numbers. One industry-funded study being quoted was so far-reaching that it includes new jobs for dancers and choreographers in its tally. Here’s the number that matters most: the company behind the pipeline, TransCanada, said in sworn testimony the project will only generate “hundreds” of permanent jobs.

Since the jobs numbers turned out to be thin, some lawmakers have tried to claim the pipeline would lower gas prices. But by diverting Canadian oil that would otherwise go to the Midwest, TransCanada has admitted the pipeline would increase the price Americans pay for Canadian oil by $3.9 billion. The other interesting thing is that the price of gas – when DOWN after the Keystone XL pipeline was rejected this week.

Next GOP leaders tried to position the Keystone decision as a sign he can’t stand up to his base. But even some pipeline supporters view Obama’s choice as a matter of fair play. They dislike that Republicans in Congress wanted Obama to ignore the extensive review process required by law for major infrastructure projects and approve a pipeline whose route hasn’t yet been confirmed—all within 60 days.

Governor Schweitzer told MSNBC, “As chief executive of Montana, if they ask me to approve of a pipeline with an incomplete application, I would have to reject it and I am the biggest proponent of this pipeline in America. These jokers in Congress that are trying to force the president to approve an incomplete application are just making mischief.”

What has impressed me most was that even as the Republican leaders were trying every argument they could, Obama doubled down. The same day he announced the Keystone decision he released his first 2012 campaign ad, and the topic was clean energy. It lays out the administration’s energy achievements, but it also positions clean energy as the path to the future.

In the end, that’s why Republicans and Democrats are fighting to win the energy messaging war in this race. They know energy is represents the trifecta of campaign-friendly values: patriotism, independence, and jobs.

The current Republican field’s collective vision for energy adds the value of conservatism — more of the same fossil fuels we have used for the past 100 years. Obama’s vision for energy layers on the values of ingenuity, innovation, leadership, and dominance in global markets. The dirty Keystone XL pipeline doesn’t have a place in the vision, and by rejecting, Obama has not only confirmed his clean energy leadership, but he has laid claim to powerful American values.

Can We Give “Job-Killing Regulations” a Rest?

Politicians love to go for the easy applause line and lately, in Washington, that has meant decrying “job-killing regulations.”

Republican candidates for president have all gone for this crowd-pleaser.

  • Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has promised to “tear down the vast edifice of regulations the Obama administration has imposed on the economy.”
  • Texas Governor Rick Perry claims he would halt all regulations and impose a sunset so that they would automatically expire.
  • Herman Cain claims that eliminating regulations would provide “an immediate boost for our weakened economy.”

Even President Obama has at times appeared to buy-in to this notion, ordering every agency to review its existing regulations to eliminate burdens on business, even though such analysis would have been completed when the regulation was first written.

It may be a crowd-pleaser, but it turns out that it simply isn’t true that regulations kill jobs. The Washington Post talked with some of the country’s top economists and experts on the relationship between job creation and regulations. The conclusion?

“Overall impact on employment is minimal.”

The truth is that regulations can impact jobs but don’t have much effect when it comes to employment. That means that a particular regulation might reduce jobs in one industry but create them in another. For example, a clean air regulation might reduce jobs at a dirty coal-fired power plant and create new jobs at a clean-burning natural gas plant. But, looking at the big picture, employers report that only 0.3% of layoffs are due to “government regulations/intervention.” That’s small potatoes compared with the 25% of jobs lost due to reduced demand for products and services in our weak economy.

While they may not have a big impact on jobs, regulations do have a big impact in a lot of other areas, namely in protecting workers, the public and the environment. So, let’s put “job-killing regulations” to rest. If our politicians are looking for new descriptions, how about “life-saving, people-protecting, society-benefiting regulations”? It’s not so catchy, but it has the benefit of being true.

President Obama’s Decision on Ozone: Bad Policy and Bad Politics

I’ll admit it. I was originally a Hillary Clinton supporter in 2008. I liked then-Senator Obama’s passion but I was comforted by Clinton’s experience in what I felt was a tumultuous time. After Obama became the victor from the primaries, I enthusiastically got on board.

Now, I feel like sucker.

Last Friday, President Obama forced the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set aside a measure to reduce smog. If you breathe, this should be a big deal for you. The new smog rule would have saved up to 43,000 lives and avoid as many as 2,200 heart attacks every year while making breathing easier for the 24 million Americans living with asthma.

This is a decision that was solely in the President’s court. He ignored the EPA and the recommendation of the agency’s outside science advisors to side with polluting industries.

Why is the President now siding with polluters? He has taken strong environmental stands in the past. We saw the President push what was effectively the largest clean energy legislation ever passed as part of the initial stimulus bill. We stood with him as he pushed the climate bill in that first year. More recently, we saw the White House put us a road to reducing carbon pollution by making our cars cleaner.

But a number of recent moves are going in the opposite direction. The White House gave tentative approval to offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The Administration continues to move forward on steps to approve the Keystone pipeline. And now it is backing away from smog rules.

Why? The White House claims clean air protections would be too expensive. But this is a farce. Letting the polluters off the hook won’t save lives, won’t create jobs and won’t fuel innovation. It will, however, endanger the health and lives of children and seniors.

In fact, as NRDC’s Frances Beinecke said late last week, “clean air investments yield enormous returns. The smog standards would generate $37 billion in value for a cost of about $20 billion by 2020. Taken together, Clean Air Act standards generated approximately $1.3 trillion in public health and environmental benefits in 2010 alone for a cost of $50 billion. That’s a value worth more than 9 percent of GDP for a cost of only .4 percent of GDP. The ratio of benefits to costs is more than 26 to 1.”

Why the White House is running away from this story is beyond me. This shouldn’t be about the economy because these safeguards will create jobs. And this retreat certainly isn’t going to get him any votes. In a June poll of likely voters commissioned by the American Lung Association found that 75 percent supported the EPA’s effort to set stronger smog standards and 66 percent believed that EPA scientists– not Congress — should establish clean air standards. Is he is hoping to attract a few votes from right? Unlikely if you consider that only 24 percent of moderate Republicans and 7 percent of conservative Republicans think he is doing a good job according to the the most recent Gallup polling.

Color me confused. The only thing that makes sense is that the White House made a political calculation that it couldn’t win the message war against the Tea Party. The Tea Party has made “regulation” a dirty word when in fact regulations help keep us safe.

Environmental and public health regulations are what keep that industrial mill from dumping its toxic chemicals in the lake you fish in each summer. Regulations have been cleaning our air for decades. Regulations on buildings ensure that your home and office be built to withstand foreseeable natural disasters. Long gone are the days when machinery regularly maimed employees thanks to labor regulations. And a lack of regulations can lead to disaster – just look at the Wall Street crash and the part that lax regulations played in that disaster. The word “regulation” is really a synonym for “public safeguard.” When did that become a bad thing?

President Obama should reconsider this misguided move and redouble his efforts to protect clean air. He is going to have many opportunities in the coming days to right this wrong. The House will be voting as early this month to try to overturn the clean air standards the White House has moved forward with. But if we don’t weigh in, the Tea Party will set the agenda of this White House.

Where is the hope and change that we were promised in 2008? I suspect that a lot of people who walked precincts and stood in long lines to cast a vote for the President Obama in the last Presidential election are asking themselves the same question.

Cantor’s Plan Won’t Create Jobs but Will Endanger Health

As we head into the fall political season, lawmakers and candidates of all stripes will be talking about the public’s primary concern – jobs. But just because some lawmakers will be using the word “jobs” a lot doesn’t mean they actually have a plan for creating them.

Take House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). On Monday, he sent a memo to his GOP colleagues about what he called his “jobs agenda.” But the memo wasn’t really about jobs, it was a list of regulations the Tea Party types have been targeting all year. Eight of the eleven listed were environmental safeguards.

In Cantor’s alternate universe, it’s not the global financial crisis that is slowing job growth. It is the Environmental Protection Agency. Sure, the agency has been around for 40 years, during which the economy has expanded significantly.

Nonetheless, Cantor still believes the solution for unemployment is to stop asking polluters to clean up their garbage. Why, 40 years after the Clean Air Act was signed into law by President Nixon, have environmental safeguards become the economic bogeyman all of a sudden? For the same reason the Tea Party hammered on about the debt ceiling for months. And for the same reason every GOP candidate expends a lot of hot air denying climate change.

They don’t know how to solve the big problem voters care most about: job creation. They don’t know how to get Americans back to work. It’s much easier to talk about hot-button issues that get the radical parts of the base riled up: Government overreach! Towering deficit! A false climate conspiracy! If the base gets really incensed, they might not realize that the Emperor has no jobs.

I get it. Governing is hard work, and climbing out of a global recession is even harder. But we can’t abide the sideshow tactics when so many Americans are struggling to keep a roof over their heads. And we especially can’t do it when the so-called plan will actually endanger the health of American families.

All this grandstanding rhetoric about “job-destroying” regulations obscures two terribly important truths. First, environmental and public health protections save people’s lives. The updated safeguard for mercury Cantor was complaining about would prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks, and 120,000 asthma attacks among children each year. The smog standard he cited could save up to 4,300 lives and avoid as many as 2,200 heart attacks every year.

Second, cleaning up our air and producing greener energy actually can create jobs. According to a new report from the Brookings Institution, more than 2.7 million Americans work in the clean economy. That includes people who stop raw sewage from going into our beaches, install scrubbers in power plant smokestacks, and generate clean energy.

Those numbers will only grow. Jobs in the wind and solar sectors have grown by 10 to 18 percent every year for the past eight years, even during the recession, according to Brookings.

The lithium battery industry is also expanding like crazy. These batteries power your smart phone, but they also make hybrids and electric cars go farther. According to New York Times article. American companies produced less than 2 percent of the global market for advanced batteries in 2009. By 2015, 40 percent of the world’s supply could be made in America. I went to Michigan during my summer vacation, and I saw what the newspaper described: abandoned factories every five miles. But the lithium battery industry is providing an alternative to Rust Belt blight. It’s putting Americans to work, but it’s also putting our nation on path toward leadership. Whoever figures out how to make cars and electronic be cleaner, more efficient, and cheaper will dominate one of the biggest markets of this century.

This kind of industry growth provides a positive agenda for the future. I challenge the GOP and the Tea Party to come up with something constructive. They keep talking about what they want to tear down—clean air safeguards, taxes, deficit spending. But what do they want to build? Even if they don’t have a job creation plan figured out, I would like to see them offer something affirmative for a change.