Let the Light Shine In

When it comes to the potential of solar energy, the Obama administration continues to see the light and follow it with conviction. This stands in stark contrast to the Koch brothers’ use of the American Legislative Exchange Council as a front to push for removal of critical renewable energy standards on the state level, despite the enormous public popularity of and business support for renewable energy.

This month, the White House hosted a Solar Summit—a special event focused on highlighting the continued development of solar energy in the U.S. Along with honoring individuals across the country who are helping to drive domestic solar deployment, The Obama administration took the event as an opportunity to announce new steps to expand the use of solar energy in American homes, businesses, and schools, and to call for new commitments from the private sector and non-profit organizations to support solar deployment and jobs.

Since President Obama took office in 2008, unprecedented investments in research, development, and deployment of solar technologies have seen solar prices markedly decrease and the solar market rapidly grow. These developments have driven enormous growth in the solar industry, with more than 140,000 American jobs up and down the solar supply chain, 50,000 of which have come into existence since 2010. This Solar Summit and the announcements made in connection with it demonstrate the continuation of this Administration’s historic commitment to developing clean sources of energy.

While the summit was valuable in promoting recent successes, the announcements made surrounding the event are particularly exciting because they promise continued growth of domestic solar power. Our country has no doubt made great strides in expanding our investment in and use of solar energy under the Obama administration thus far, but there still remains plenty of room for an increased commitment by Congress to renewable energy development through the extension of the Production Tax Credit for example.

Skeptics argue that solar energy still amounts to a relatively minor portion of our national energy needs. However, such a picture is misleading, as it does not reflect the present popularity and enormous future potential of renewable energy. Keep in mind that renewable energy sources accounted for over 50 percent of new domestic electricity generation capacity in 2012 and over 40 percent of the same in 2013, with solar power leading the way for renewable sources that year. Although the rate of adoption of renewable energy is restricted by the lingering of fossil fuel-fired power plants—with their permits stretching decades—far past their heyday, the future is now for renewable energy and energy efficiency when policy makers decide what energy resources they should invest in next.

But not only are the climatic and economic reasons for increased investment in domestic solar energy persuasive—it is by all accounts a shrewd political move as well. Poll after poll demonstrates that Americans of all political stripes and all ages support greater emphasis on producing domestic solar power. With that in mind, it’s quite clear that policymakers across the political spectrum and at all levels of government—from local to federal—would  do well to join the President in his support of solar power.

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.