Will we have a Clean Energy powered Union?

This blog was written by Jennifer Rennicks, former Senior Director of Policy & Communications at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | January 26, 2011 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy

As the President offered his vision for positioning America to ‘win the future’ in the annual State of the Union address last night, two lines really stood out for me,

“I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.”

“I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80% of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.”

I heartily applaud the President’s call for us to generate more than two-thirds of our electricity from clean energy sources by 2035. Some studies even show how that target could save consumers in our region money. However, it is critical that we commit to using only truly clean energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal, sustainable bioenergy and energy efficiency.  The President indicated that goal would require an ‘all of the above’ approach including so-called “clean” coal, nuclear and natural gas, ignoring that these sources are dirty energy which threatens our public health and degrades our environment.

Realizing a clean energy economy in just 24 years can be the new ‘Apollo Project’ – one that is nearly as bold as the goal President Kennedy set for America in 1961 to ‘put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.’ Like the Apollo Project, our best minds will seek creative and cost-effective solutions to reach our goal.  Unlike the Apollo Project, we have a head start as there are many clean energy options available.  In either case, 24 years is not that much time – we can’t wait for a technology like “clean” coal that doesn’t exist and we can’t pin our hopes on multi-billion dollar nuclear plants that the private sector won’t likely build without federal backing–financed by American taxpayers for these risky ventures.

Later in his speech, the President offered an oblique reference to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act when reminding  lawmakers that he was committed to enforcing ‘commonsense safeguards’ that make our air safe to breath and our water safe to drink.  It was the tepid response from members of Congress that I found troubling.  Congress itself passed these seminal laws in the 1970s with overwhelmingly bipartisan support (the Clean Air Act even passed by ‘Unanimous Consent’ in the Senate meaning not a single Senator objected) and the American people have benefited ever since with fewer premature deaths and cases of chronic illness reported. Nevertheless, members of Congress are already lining up to try and hamper (at best) or eliminate (at worst) these safeguards and it’s essential that citizens, community leaders and health professionals push back on these efforts.

Our country was able to put a man on the moon in less than a decade, and we also invented automobiles, airplanes, telephones, computers, smart phones and the internet.  Becoming a truly clean energy powered union is just another step on the path of progress, but a step that our children’s future requires us to take.

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