Looking to the past to secure America's clean energy future
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When I was growing up, some of America’s rivers and lakes were on fire. After decades of blissful innocence fueled by consumer growth, those images on the nightly news were a wake-up call that inspired neighbors, communities, and the country to come together and find solutions to improve the planet for future generations.

In less than a decade, a concerted effort was underway to clean up our air and water and the Environmental Protection Agency was established to ensure we had the necessary resources to achieve a cleaner nation.

Now, years later, we face our greatest environmental challenge yet — climate change. While the task is daunting, we know the winning formula: leverage the same can-do, come-together attitude of the 1970s to again inspire solutions. 


National Clean Energy Week (NCEW), which ran this week (Sept. 20-24) and concludes today, and which I have chaired for the last five years, is an opportunity to do just that. The hybrid of virtual and D.C.-based events encourage collaboration among policymakers from both sides of the aisle, investors, industry leaders, nonprofits, advocates, educators, and everyday Americans. This was exemplified this week when both the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Reps. John Curtis (R-Utah) and Alan LowenthalAlan Stuart Lowenthal Ban on new offshore drilling must stay in the Build Back Better Act First senator formally endorses Bass in LA mayoral bid Bass receives endorsement from EMILY's List MORE (D-Calif.), and the U.S. Senate, championed by Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Biden makes his pitch as tax questions mount Emanuel defends handling of Chicago police shooting amid opposition to nomination Emanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing MORE (R-Maine) and Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellSenate Democrat calls on Facebook to preserve documents related to whistleblower testimony Biden says he has directed DOJ to focus on violence from unruly airline passengers Looking to the past to secure America's clean energy future MORE (D-Wash.), recognized the importance of National Clean Energy Week in congressional resolutions. And, across the country, Republican and Democratic governors and mayors designated Clean Energy Week as an opportunity to commit to conversations and pursue initiatives that bring the national discussion around clean energy solutions to a state level.

But it’s not all talk. I have seen it create remarkable progress toward lowering emissions and achieving clean energy goals. In fact, NCEW and similar efforts have fostered political consensus around clean energy development reflected in a series of recent legislative successes.

This summer, the U.S. Senate voted 69-30 to pass the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which includes major investments in modernizing our electric grid, fortifying clean energy supply chains, and continuing research and development in energy innovation. It also delivered a 92-8 bipartisan vote for the Growing Climate Solutions Act (GCSA), a groundbreaking bill that would incentivize farmers, ranchers, and foresters to implement climate-friendly practices by providing them with technical assistance and helping them access lucrative carbon credit markets.

Those bills seek to build upon the achievements of the Energy Act of 2020, an all-of-the-above energy package that represented the first comprehensive national energy policy update in 13 years. It passed last year with a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and a Republican-controlled Senate and was signed into law by a Republican president.

Over the past decade, clean energy deployment has steadily grown despite shifts in partisan power. Solar has experienced an average annual growth rate of 50 percent, wind turbine use has increased 25 percent per year and production of cleaner-burning natural gas increased by 62 percent

The takeaway is that when legislators reach across the aisle, the American people will be behind them. Recent polling found that 74 percent of Americans, including 59 percent of Republicans, support increased government action to boost clean energy development.

But a cleaner future involves every nation. Today, 85 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions originate outside the United States. In fact, China and other developing economies will account for over 100 percent of the anticipated increase in global emissions through 2050. So, we must continue to export our clean tech innovations to make a difference. U.S. energy and climate policy must foster innovation and commercialization pathways that work as well for India as well as they do for Indiana.

Combating climate change is a tall order. But given how far we’ve come in my lifetime, I am optimistic. One thing I know is the future for American clean energy is almost limitless — so long as we keep working together.

Heather Reams is chair of National Clean Energy Week (NCEW) and executive director for Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES).