A Reasonable Model for Clean Energy Leadership

In a week full of crazy Republican extremism, a common-sense moderate feels like a breath of fresh air. One of those welcome breezes is blowing out of Michigan, where Governor Snyder has made it clear that threats of a Tea Party primary challenge won’t distract him from doing what is best for his state.

That includes expanding renewable energy. Snyder has long been a supporter of clean energy investment, and said on his campaign website, “Michigan needs to be a leader in the innovative movement towards alternative and cleaner energy.” He has repeatedly called for raising the standard that requires Michigan utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar power by 2015.

A new study has confirmed that Michigan can easily hit that mark and go far beyond it.  State regulators released a report last week concluding that Michigan can meet a renewable energy standard of 30 percent by 2035.

Snyder could call for raising the standards once again. After all, clean energy solutions have been good for his state. More than 38,000 Michiganders worked assembling or building parts for fuel efficient cars in 2011 and 2,500 new jobs have been added to the list since then. About 1,000 new jobs have been announced in the Michigan wind industry since late 2011, and more will follow if the state increases the renewable energy standards.

Talk of wind power and clean energy standards doesn’t sit well with most climate-denying Tea Partiers. But it makes sense to a growing number of Republican officials. Roughly 75 percent of installed wind power comes from Republican districts. Red-state stalwart South Dakota produced nearly 25 percent of its electricity from wind power last year. North Dakota got nearly 15 percent of its energy from wind.

Kansas built more wind generation than all states except for California and Texas—a push that helped generate 12,000 jobs and brought in $3 billion in investment to the state. When ALEC and other conservative leaders tried to repeal Kansas’ clean energy standard, lawmakers beat them back because they know renewable energy projects are good for the state’s economy and communities. The Republican governor of Kansas, meanwhile, joined Republican governors from Iowa and Oklahoma to call for extending a production tax credit for wind power last year.

Across the country, Republican officials are standing up for clean energy because they know it delivers real benefits. Some leaders will invite Tea Party primary challenges as a result, but hopefully they will take the path of Snyder and say: bring it on.

Snyder seems to want to take back the Republican Party from the radical fringe. Some of his positions have alienated extremists and inspired some to recruit challengers, but their influence appears limited and Snyder remains unfazed. Instead, he is betting that his brand of moderate Republican leadership will take hold. “Hopefully, I’m a reasonable model for people to look at across the country,” he said in a recent interview.

Even with his support of renewable energy, it is critical that Governor Snyder also acknowledges the huge potential for increasing Michigan’s investment in cost-effective energy efficiency. It is the cheapest, cleanest, fastest way to meet future energy needs, and in Synder’s words, a “no regrets” investment.

Clean energy and energy efficiency offer Snyder a way to show how reasonable he is by championing a stronger clean energy standard for his state and smart clean energy policies for the nation. After all, investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency isn’t a red or blue state issue; it’s an American opportunity.

 

Snyder On the Right Side of Renewables in Michigan

Many times I find myself writing my blog posts about politicians who stand with dirty polluters rather than the health and well being of their constituents. Today is an exception.

In case you missed it on the NRDC Action Fund Facebook page or Twitter feed, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder recently told the Associate Press that he supports increasing his state’s investment in renewable energy sources.

I’m going to go ahead and just state the obvious. This is a big deal! As we fight to keep existing renewable energy portfolios in place at statehouses all across the country, Governor Snyder is choosing the road less traveled. Rather than attacking a plan already in place, he’s decided to enhance it.

In Michigan, energy suppliers must produce at least 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015. With major energy providers on target to meet the deadline, Governor Snyder is right to advance the discussion about how Michigan can and should do more.

Jobs

Michigan is a state built on a manufacturing base. That economic engine was hit especially hard during the recent economic downturn. But it’s not all doom and gloom. According to the American Wind Energy Association, Michigan already has more than 40 wind manufacturing facilities currently operating. Michigan also ranks #17 in the country as a wind resource, which is enough wind to power 160 percent of the state’s current electricity needs.

According to a report from the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Michigan is home to more than 120 solar supply chain businesses employing more than 6,300 people. This places Michigan #4 in the nation for total solar jobs. And, there’s still room to grow, with an estimated of 3,500 total gigawatts of solar power able to be harnessed.

Standing with Michiganders

Governor Snyder not only recognizes the economic potential of investing more heavily in renewable energy, he also sees what his constituents want for Michigan. In polling leading up to the 2012 election, the majority of Michigan voters supported increasing the state’s investment in renewable energy.

While some opponents of renewable energy may try to paint a different picture due to the defeat of past pro-renewables campaigns at the ballot box, it’s simply not the case. Evidence following the election clearly showed that it was the approach to changing the constitution that caused the issue to be defeated. Michiganders support for renewable energy remains strong. By supporting an increase in the renewable energy standards, Governor Snyder is on the right side of his constituents.

 Winning

I’ve talked a lot about creating situations that result in win-wins and even win-win-wins. Increasing renewable energy investments is Michigan is one of those cases. Governor Snyder is on the right path and I would encourage the other elected officials in the state to get on board. Together they can create jobs, improve public health and protect our beloved Great Lakes. The future is bright for Michigan. Let’s see how the state’s leaders harness it.

 

Michiganders for Clean Energy

Senator Carl Levin has announced he will not seek reelection in 2014 and already the succession speculation has begun. Michigan has a deep field of leaders to draw from to run for Levin’s seat. Yet whoever steps forward will have to chart their course carefully. Michigan is solidly purple, having voted for Democrats in six of the last ten presidential races, but electing a Republican governor and a Republican legislature.

How can potential Michigan candidates appeal to the broadest range of voters? By calling for clean energy and climate action.

This approach worked across the nation in the 2012 election cycle.  Energy was a central issue in races from the top to the bottom of the ticket. Given the choice between candidates who promoted clean energy and those who held polluter-friendly positions on fossil fuels, voters overwhelmingly chose clean energy champions. And that includes Independent voters. Every major swing state went for President Obama, and states from Montana to Maine to Virginia swept clean energy candidates into office up and down the ticket.

This same approach can work in Michigan in 2014. Voters will have experienced two more years of extreme weather events pummeling their communities. But they will also have seen more wind farms and solar panels become ordinary parts of everyday life, and they will know more people with jobs designing and building fuel efficient cars.

Support for clean energy and climate action will only grow. Here’s why smart Michigan candidates should tap into that support.

Voters of All Stripes Support Clean Energy

Some GOP lawmakers still believe fossil fuels are our only viable energy source, but most voters have left those outdated views behind. They want American to develop clean energy. Last fall, polluting industries and their allies spent millions in Michigan races. Yet despite all the dirty money, undecided voters said they would side with a candidate who “supports EPA standards to reduce dangerous carbon pollution” over one who does not by a wide margin (56 percent versus 20 percent). Undecided voters also said they preferred congressional candidates who, like Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, support “standards to reduce toxic mercury pollution from power plants” over those who oppose them (62 percent versus 18 percent.) Curbing subsidies for oil companies, increasing fuel economy standards, and boosting clean energy drew similar support.

Some may say clean energy suffered a setback in Michigan last fall when voters failed to pass a ballot measure that would have amended the state constitution to include policies to promote renewable energy. However, election night polling showed that voters were rejecting an attempt to alter the constitution. They strongly supported action from their elected officials to create renewable energy policies in Lansing, not in the constitution.

Now Governor Snyder is holding hearings all over the state to discuss the future of energy policy in Michigan. We are engaged and working with our partners to ensure support for clean energy job creation and energy efficiency are part of the plan moving forward.

Clean Energy Is Another Way to Talk about Jobs, Jobs, and More Jobs

Michigan is ranked eighth in the country for the number of clean energy and clean transportation jobs in the state, according to a report released earlier this month by Environmental Entrepreneurs. The state is on track to add even more: companies and communities have announced 19 new projects that will generate nearly 4,000 additional jobs in Michigan. All together, the state’s renewable energy sector has attracted $1.79 billion in investments through 2012.

Meanwhile, Michigan added 34,100 auto manufacturing jobs last September for a gain of 32.7 percent since the trough in June 2009. A recent report published by NRDC and their partners found that a considerable amount of this growth is driven by new clean car standards that will be double fuel economy for cars by 2025—and save drivers $80 billion a year at the pump in the process.

Many Michiganders have benefited from clean energy jobs; many more could in the future. The state requires 10 percent of all electricity come from wind and solar power. Nearby Iowa, in contrast, is already getting 23 percent of its electricity from renewables. If Michigan created stronger clean energy standards and incentives, the state would get more home-grown jobs. And voters would reward candidates who helped deliver those jobs.

Climate Denial Is the New Black Helicopter

A generation ago, candidates sounded out of touch if they tried to convince voters the United Nations was sending black helicopters to take over America. Today, when candidates mention sun spots as a cause of climate change the extremist alarm bells start going off in the minds of voters. In fact, a majority now say that climate change is happening and we should do something to address it. While it may not be the top issue for every voter, most feel uncomfortable with candidates who blatantly reject science and chart out extreme positions…  

This is no different in Michigan. Michiganders had their fling with extremism and now they are paying a price. Republican Representative Justin Amash’s own party found his positions so far afield that they kicked him off the budget committee—leaving his district without a voice in this critical arena. Now there are rumblings Amash may run to replace Levin. His opponents simply have to ask him what he is going to do to protect the Great Lakes from climate change or where he stands on government efforts to reduce global warming pollution, and voters will see the extremism shine through.

Clean Energy: Good Policy and Good Politics

As we wait and see who jumps into this race, one thing is for sure. Michigan is poised to be a leader in the clean energy economy and Michiganders deserve a U.S. Senator who represents those values. If we learned anything from the 2012 election cycle, it’s that candidates can run and win on investing in clean energy, protecting the environment and conserving our natural resources. The best part is these aren’t just good policies, they are good politics too.

Post-election Lessons from MI and OH: Fuel Efficiency Matters

This blog is re-posted from the NRDC Switchboard.

When it comes to understanding the outcomes in Michigan and Ohio, pundits have pointed to the auto rescue loans and clean energy playing decisive roles. Clean energy won big with voters, decisively choosing many candidates who campaigned on clean, renewable sources of energy, starting with President Obama. However, what is less discussed is the direct role played by the Obama Administration’s new carbon pollution and fuel efficiency standards that will achieve the equivalent of 54.5 mpg by 2025.

Not only do polls show that raising fuel-efficiency standards is highly popular with voters, including in Michigan and Ohio, but auto workers could also clearly see by 2012 that investments in fuel efficiency were helping to preserve and create jobs.

While Romney promised to overturn the Obama Administration’s latest round of carbon pollution and fuel efficiency standards and had even said that he would roll back existing standards that would have cars reaching an average of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, President Obama touted the standards in numerous speeches and in the second debate.

Clean Energy and Fuel Efficiency Highly Popular with MI and OH Voters

As noted above, clean energy won big, with voters decisively choosing many candidates who campaigned on clean, renewable sources of energy.  Romney’s opposition of the standards certainly fed into the narrative that he was the candidate of fossil fuels and not clean energy.

But voters rejected this “drill-centric” vision, despite the oil, gas, and coal companies spending more than $270 million in campaign ads in just the last two months.  A new survey of voters by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research in key battleground states confirms that these energy attacks failed to resonate with voters, including voters in Midwestern states where the energy attacks were most heavily focused. The survey, released on November 7th, found:

“President Obama and Democrats retain more credibility on energy than Republicans. Voters believe Obama will do a better job on energy than Romney by a 7 point margin, 51-44 percent. And they think Democrats will do a better job on this issue than Republicans by a 50 – 43 percent margin. These advantages are significant and represent larger advantages for Obama and Democrats than they receive on either the economy or taxes.”

Fuel efficiency standards themselves are highly popular with Michigan and Ohio voters. According to poll conducted last September for the NRDC Action Fund, “undecided” voters were more likely to vote for the Presidential candidate that supported higher fuel efficiency standards by a 2-1 margin in Michigan and a 3-1 margin in Ohio.  ”Likely” voters in those states also were more likely to vote for the Presidential candidate that supported higher fuel efficiency standards by a 2-1 margin in both states.

Auto companies and their workers in Michigan and Ohio understood how a Romney Administration’s attempt to overturn the standards threatened to create chaos for their investment plans. These plans are based on long-term stability of the hard fought fuel-efficiency standard agreements.

Creating this stability and certainty- including California’s agreement to be part of the national program- was so important that in a speech to the Detroit Economic Forum, Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson praised the Obama administration’s 54.5 mpg proposal as a “win for American manufacturers”. According to the Detroit News:

Akerson said the uncertainty about future requirements had been “one of the major risks coming into 2011.” Under the deal, automakers won’t face separate regulations from California and other states.

Fuel-Efficiency Standards a Powerful Boost to Auto Jobs

The standards also gave a huge boost to the auto industry by accelerating investments in the latest fuel-efficient technologies and vehicles, stimulating sales and jobs. By the time of the elections, auto workers in the Midwest could clearly see the positive role of fuel efficiency in preserving and creating jobs.

Fuel efficiency had two well-understood impacts on jobs.

First, major investments in fuel efficiency are directly creating jobs. There are already 150,000 jobs in 43 states and 500 facilities that are dependent on building fuel efficient components and vehicles. As clearly documented in NRDC’s recent study Driving Growth, Michigan and Ohio are especially benefiting, with hundreds of millions of dollars of investment flowing into Michigan and Ohio and thousands of workers being hired.

In Ohio, for example, there are numerous examples of fuel efficiency-related investments and jobs:

·         In Lordstown, GM has three shifts building the fuel efficient, compact Chevy Cruze which gets up to 40 mpg.

·         In Cleveland, Ford created a third shift to build the award winning, highly popular Ecoboost engines.

·         In Toledo, Chrysler invested $500 million and hired 1,100 new workers to build the next generation, more fuel efficient Jeep models, and GM is investing in building advanced transmissions to squeeze more miles from each gallon.

·         In the Marysville area, Honda is investing in fuel efficient, continuously variable transmissions to help make its new Accord achieve 36 mpg, now a necessity in the highly competitive midsize car market.

Second, higher fuel efficiency is not only directly boosting investments and jobs, but also boosting sales by stimulating pent-up demand for new cars.  According to Automotive News:  “The changeover to high-mpg models, in all segments is the key market driver this year. Dealers say it has been the release valve on pent-up demand as fuel prices soared.” A May 2012 Consumer Reports survey showed that fuel efficiency is what new auto buyers are looking for, and by far their number one concern.

Auto Industry and Workers Clearly Better Off Since 2009

As a result, the U.S. auto industry is clearly back on its feet with sales and jobs on the rise, and fuel economy hitting historic highs.

 

Based on official data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. auto sector added 231,600 jobs as of September 2012 since the auto industry employment low point in June 2009. Employment in auto manufacturing (motor vehicle assembly plus motor vehicle parts manufacturing) has increased by 152,300, for a 24.4% gain since the trough. (see DrivingGrowth.org for latest job statistics).

The jobs impacts of the overall recovery can clearly be seen in a Michigan and Ohio, where job growth since 2009 has been substantially driven by new auto jobs.

In September, Michigan added 34,100 auto manufacturing jobs for gain of 32.7% since the trough in June 2009.  The state’s September 2012 unemployment rate dropped by 4.8 percentage points to 9.3%, nearly three times faster than the national average.

Ohio’s auto sector also saw robust growth, with 10,500 jobs added for a gain of 16.1% since the trough of June 2009. The unemployment rate in Ohio has also dropped much faster than the national rate, by 3.6 percentage points to below the national average to 7.0%.

In sum, the elections demonstrated not only the importance of clean energy and the auto bailouts but also, quite simply, that fuel efficiency matters.  With oil prices almost certain to remain high and volatile, and with growing public awareness of the need to tackle climate change, it’s a good bet that attacking clean energy and fuel efficiency standards will continue to be bad politics.

 

Win-Win-Win

I like to win.

I don’t think that makes me very different from most people.  But, it’s not often that I get to declare a win-win-win though. Which is why today’s announcement in Michigan is so exciting!

Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs collected more than 500,000 signatures to ensure a proposal will be on the November 6, 2012 ballot which will require that 25 percent of Michigan’s energy come from renewable sources such as wind, solar and biomass by 2025.

Win #1-Job Creation

Currently, Michigan imports its energy from other states and countries. This means jobs and billions of dollars being sent outside of the state. This ballot proposal will help Michigan build a clean energy industry within the state, allowing residents to stop exporting their money and jobs. The proposal would also establish incentives to hire Michigan workers.

Win #2-Reduced Energy Prices

Studies by independent economists predict that it would only cost the average Michigan household an average of $1.25 a month, but in the long run could reduce their energy bills. Think about the possibilities of expanding Michigan’s clean energy production without increasing energy prices. The proposal would also limit consumer rate increases related to the generation or purchase of renewable energy to no more than 1 per cent per year.

Win #3-Public Health

Renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and biomass are clean energy sources which will reduce pollution and further protect the health of all Michigan families. This proposal will give Michigan cleaner and healthier air and water. It will protect the Great Lakes, reduce asthma and lung disease and ultimately save lives.

Scores of Michigan businesses, organizations, individuals and public officials are supporting the ballot proposal and the NRDC Action Fund is proud to stand with them today as we march towards a win for all of Michigan this November.