America risks losing race in clean energy technology

Jim Rogers of Duke Energy testified that “regulatory uncertainty is postponing investments.” He said that Duke plans “to invest $25 billion in infrastructure over the next five years. It is critical we know the rules of the road of climate change as soon as possible to make sure we are making the right investments.”

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Steve Kline of PG&E Corp. warned of “an incredible lost opportunity if we don’t act now.” He said that if we failed, “there are these amazing, developing new technology centers across the United States, and we see those jobs going overseas and that technology superiority going overseas.”

These American business executives were right. In the year since their testimony, the case for comprehensive energy legislation has only grown stronger. Our major international competitors are trying to capture the market on clean energy technologies. China alone is investing over $2 billion each week in renewable and other green technologies. Last month, the head of Deutsche Bank’s global asset management said, “Until the U.S. Congress passes climate regulation, America will be at a competitive disadvantage in the development of renewable energy and other climate change industries.”

Today, we risk losing the clean energy race for wind turbines, solar panels, electric batteries, and other clean technologies. We are no longer the export leader in many of these fast-growing markets. If we don’t act, we will lose more jobs to China and our reliance on foreign oil and other sources of energy will grow. And our climate will continue to deteriorate.

Last June, the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act. This legislation would establish an economy-wide cap on global warming pollution with a market-based system to cut emissions each year. It would increase energy efficiency across the economy and establish national requirements for the generation of renewable energy. And the bill would invest over $100 billion in energy research and deployment, and establish a new clean energy fund to help finance projects that can sustainably meet our energy needs.

Opponents have said that we cannot afford this legislation, but the truth is we cannot afford not to act. Because the legislation relies on market forces, the costs are minimal. According to the latest analysis from the Environmental Protection Agency, the cost to the average household would be 20 to 32 cents per day ($74 to $117 per year). This is consistent with analyses by the Congressional Budget Office, which projects a cost of 48 cents per day ($175 per year), and the Energy Information Agency, which projects a cost of 23 cents per day ($83 per year). And these cost estimates don’t reflect the bill’s many benefits, including energy independence and security, energy technology leadership, and a cleaner environment.

Major steps forward were taken in Copenhagen in December. As a result of President Barack Obama’s personal engagement, both China and India for the first time announced targets to reduce growth in their emissions. This significant achievement means that both developed and developing nations are now acting in concert to address climate change, dispelling the myth that we would disadvantage ourselves by acting unilaterally to enact a comprehensive energy law. Instead, the real threat to our economy has become further legislative delay.

The next steps must come in the U.S. Senate. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) have reported strong bills out of their committees, and Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are working together to find a bipartisan approach to bring to the Senate floor. Our long-term economic future, our energy security, and our environment are all riding on the success of their efforts.  

We have a historic opportunity and responsibility. Comprehensive energy legislation can give our business leaders the clarity they need to invest today to create jobs for tomorrow. In his State of the Union address, President Obama said that when it comes to clean energy jobs, he will not accept second place for the United States of America. Neither should Congress.

Waxman chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee.