Energy independence and a transition to renewable energy are pressing issues impacting our national, environmental, and financial security. Our current economic crisis also presents an unprecedented opportunity to make long-needed changes in our nation’s energy policy. We need intelligent, progressive legislation that provides incentives, training, and investment opportunities for a transition to a softer energy path and a more peaceful and productive world.
Fossil fuels kill the economy, the environment, and international security: Nonrenewable energy is bad for the economy, the environment, and international security. Nonrenewable and foreign sources of energy exacerbate our current economic crisis, impacting tens of millions of families, making it harder to get to work, more costly to move goods and operate services, and more expensive to heat and cool our homes and workplaces. Fossil fuel consumption is destroying our environment, contributing to global climate change, soil erosion, barren mountaintops, deforestation, and health-threatening particulate materials in our air and water. Dependence on foreign sources of energy virtually guarantees continued international tensions, tempting policymakers into foreign military interventions that threaten the lives of Americans and others, contributing to international instability and violent extremism.
From a convergence of problems to a comprehensive solution: The downturn in the automobile industry threatens the livelihood of millions of workers, but a smart set of policies, incentives, and public-private partnerships can move these workers into jobs in clean technology and alternative energy. We need to build the new energy sector. Utilities, green building sectors, and clean technology companies are all experiencing a shortage of qualified workers at a time when the national unemployment rate is nearly 10 percent. Policies which build on existing state and local workforce development systems, and innovative postsecondary education programs, can lead the way to a new sustainable energy workforce.
Innovative Californians are already leading the way in this transition. Laney College, in Oakland, has incorporated green building into its curriculum, and has partnered with the Oakland Green Jobs Corps to offer training in green construction to low-income residents. Programs such as these can serve as national models. Robert Pollin, James Heintz, and Heidi Garrett-Peltier of the Center for American Progress conclude that California alone would increase its investment revenue by $18.5 billion, and hundreds of thousands of new jobs, through further investment in renewable energy. These include jobs for sheet metal workers, machinists, truck drivers, roofers, civil engineers, electricians and dispatchers. A 2007 study by the University of California at Berkley demonstrated that the clean energy and technology industry (from alternative energy generation to wastewater treatment to more resource-efficient industrial processes) “generates more jobs per megawatt of power installed, per unit of energy produced, and per dollar of investment than the fossil-fuel-based energy sector.” Every $100 million invested in the renewable sector creates 2,700 new jobs.iv The United Nations Industrial Development Organization recently concluded that 2.3 million new jobs in renewable energy have already been created worldwide, suggesting that further investment in such jobs would be a huge boost to the U.S. and global economy.v Safe, clean wind energy, as East Bay Rep. Jerry McNerney points out, is actually cost-competitive with fossil fuels.
State-to-state patchwork threatens a comprehensive solution: Unfortunately, the current effort at a transition to renewables is hindered by the patchwork approach taken by individual states, who lack resources and coordination. States with the most potential for job creation and energy production lack the capacity to quickly make the transition to renewables. Many current power plants cannot handle the addition of renewable energy. Some states are complaining that they cannot meet current federal mandates.
Intelligent, progressive legislation: In order to maximize such opportunities, we need intelligent, progressive legislation. Tax credits for a shift to renewable energy, currently extended to businesses and consumers, should be expanded. We need to monitor the direction of the economic stimulus money so that it continues to be directed towards renewable energy production. Congress should pass, and the President should sign into law, the Investments for Manufacturing Progress and Clean Technology (IMPACT) Act of 2009, which will provide $30 billion for factories to adjust their operations to meet the growing demand for clean technology products, including hybrid and electric cars. This bill facilitates the development of domestic clean energy manufacturing and production.
Congress should also pass the Smart Grid Advancement Act, designed to incorporate smart grid capability into the existing electricity grid, so that when it is forced to switch electricity sources, it does so efficiently. Such grid reform will save consumers millions of dollars and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, we must pass the Grants for Renewable Energy Education for the Nation Act, or the GREEN Act, which will provide competitive grants for the development of career and technical training programs in the field of renewable energy.
Other steps are important, but we need committed, conscientious policymakers in Washington to ensure their effective implementation. For example, we must support CAFE standards and a cap-and-trade system, but should work to mitigate the serious concerns that these policies will hurt consumers and working-class families. Similarly, in considering biofuel production, we must distinguish between “good” biofuels, which allow us to recycle parts of plant matter we currently throw away, and “bad” biofuel production, which spikes up worldwide food prices and hurts, rather than helps, the environment.
Rational, educated people should be leading the discussion about a transition to renewable energy. Unfortunately, our energy policies are currently made by corporate lobbyists, ex-CEOs and the politicians who eat out of their hands. Our national security agenda should not be set by companies who continue the practices of the Halliburtons and Enrons of the corporate world. Rather, we need public and private forces devoted to an ambitious, smooth transition to renewable energy: a more peaceful, decentralized, and community-friendly energy.
Adriel Hampton is a journalist, Gov 2.0 and new media strategist, public servant, and licensed private investigator. He is running for U.S. Congress in the 2009 special election for California’s 10th District. He has pledged to vote against funding for expansion of the Iraq and Afghan wars.