Show Time: Clean Energy in the bright, Congressional spotlight

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

Guest Blog | May 6, 2009 | Climate Change, Energy Policy

Next week, members of Congress begin serious consideration of a clean energy jobs plan that can move our country an enormous step closer to energy, economic and climate security.  The American Clean Energy and Security Act has the potential to generate millions of clean energy jobs, break our dependence on fossil fuels, help Americans reduce their energy use and reduce the carbon pollution that causes global warming.

For the Southeast, this clean energy future cannot happen soon enough.  More than half of our region’s energy currently comes from ‘dinosaur’ fuel sources (much of it imported from other regions), so we stand to benefit tremendously from a clean energy revolution that taps our clean, homegrown energy sources.  If we fail to address the impacts of climate change any longer, the results will be costly for the Southeast – from declines in agricultural productivity to loss of habitat and development from sea level rise, as Georgia’s State Climatologist noted, “…any change in sea level will have catastrophic impacts because of the shallow nature of our coastal waters.”

On the other hand, a comprehensive clean energy policy can unleash America’s can-do-spirit and harness abundant renewable energy resources giving our farmers and foresters new business opportunities through sustainable biomass production. A new report jointly authored by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the World Resources Institute finds strong renewable energy potential in our region that can create tens of thousands of new jobs and attract more regional energy investment.

Despite this vast potential and polls confirming that Americans feel climate and energy policy will result in new jobs, some Southeastern members of Congress remain undecided on whether to follow the President’s bold leadership to a clean energy economy.   During hearings this year:

Rep. Butterfield of North Carolina questioned whether states like North Carolina and others in the southeast are ready for renewable energy, despite the fact that his state passed a renewable energy standard back in 2007.

Rep. Gordon of Tennessee suggested the national renewable energy standard proposed within this bill could be “punitive” for some regions, even though all regions have some renewable energy potential using solar, wind and biomass resources while fewer than half the states mine coal for consumption and export.

Rep. Barrow of Georgia declared that you could “pick the state (of Georgia) clean of trees” and not meet proposed renewable energy mandates, yet Georgia’s biomass and offshore wind potential alone could replace at least 25% of the coal currently imported and burned for electricity in Georgia.

It’s very disappointing that a newly-proposed draft of this legislation contained a critical provision that benefits Duke Energy Corp. by exempting it (and other coal-plant constructing utilities) from having to spend millions of dollars to outfit its Cliffside, N.C., power plant currently under construction with “clean coal” technology.  I’m hopeful that loopholes such as this, loopholes big enough to drive a coal train through, will be removed during the committee discussion and mark-up process set to begin the week of May 11.

Congress has a critical role to play right now, and leaders from our region can be a part of this transformation or can passively endorse the status quo.  It is past time for Congress to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation that creates jobs, strengthens our security, protects public health and protects the planet. Further delay is no longer an option – now is the time for action.

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