President should address clean energy, climate change

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First, we must redouble our efforts to invest in and deploy clean energy technologies. America’s emerging clean energy sector is creating thousands of new, high-paying jobs right here at home. Wind energy supports an estimated 75,000 jobs; solar an additional 100,000. Our nation’s innovative clean energy sector is growing at an impressive rate of 8.3 percent, far outpacing the growth rate of the overall economy. Last year, wind energy — supported by the production tax credit — displaced natural gas as the leading new source of power generation. In order to unleash the full potential of our nation’s innovators and manufacturers, the president must continue to prioritize funding for clean energy research and development.


Second, in order to bring these technologies to scale, we must provide venture capitalists and private investors with more certainty.  According to a recent report by the Pew Charitable Trust, global clean energy investments reached a record $263 billion last year. To prevent American clean energy firms from falling further behind, we must engage stakeholders to create more effective financing mechanisms that will accelerate commercial and competitive deployment. Furthermore, access to such financing should be universally available — to small businesses, universities, or individuals. We also believe that clean energy should be afforded the same financing opportunities as other energy sources. Without these steps, we will continue to cede ground in this space to our largest competitor nations.

Developing clean energy is not an end in and of itself. As this year’s Super Bowl demonstrated, America’s aging and antiquated electric grid is in desperate need of attention. To enhance resiliency and reliability, we must modernize our 20th Century transmission system to meet the needs of the 21st Century. Making the grid more reliable is a good first step. But we must also install smart grid technology that will enable utilities to use computer-based systems to readily identify problems and repair them remotely.

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, it has become abundantly clear that instead of just responding to natural disasters we should prepare for them. We must pursue resiliency planning techniques like better mapping flood plains or installing combined heat and power (CHP) systems. While 8.5 million residents lost power during the storm, facilities equipped with CHP managed to keep their electricity and heat running. The president has already established a national goal of 40 gigawatts of new CHP by 2020, a 50 percent improvement from today. We must continue down this path.   

Finally, the president and Congress must use any and all tools available to address the growing threat of climate change. The impacts are already being felt: from record-breaking high temperatures to unprecedented droughts and wildfires to powerful storms. We cannot continue to ignore what is already happening around us. In order to preserve for our children what we have now, we must act. During the president’s second term, we must all work together with states and key stakeholders to find an agreeable, yet aggressive, target for existing power plants—the source of forty percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

In spite of Washington’s heated rhetoric, our constituents want to see action on these issues. A recent poll by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change indicates that 88 percent of registered voters support action to reduce global warming. Even more, 92 percent of registered voters said it was "very" or "somewhat" important for the United States to develop and use solar power, according to a recent survey conducted by Hart Research Associates. Finally, a recent poll by Zogby Analytics showed that independents prefer wind and solar energy over fossil fuel energy by a 4-to-1 margin. The message is clear: Americans want to have a permanent, domestic solution to their energy needs; they want to preserve America to allow all of us now and in the future to enjoy the land of the free. Mr. President, we stand ready and willing to work with you to address these needs, and hope our colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress will do the same.

Tonko and Connolly are co-chairmen of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC), a group of 45 House members focused promoting clean energy, protecting the environment, and curbing the threat of climate change.

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