Clean Energy

Why clean energy is a partisan issue on Capitol Hill… and nowhere else


November of a presidential election year is traditionally a time for seeking common ground to heal divides from heated political banter. How better to bring people together than picking bipartisan, low-hanging fruit and moving forward on consensus, popular issues?

To the American public, at least, one such issue is clean energy support.

According to University of Texas polling data from earlier this year, attitudes towards clean energy are overwhelmingly positive on both sides of the aisle. In fact, 90 percent of Americans want the country to focus on developing renewable energy technologies, and 70 percent support government subsidies for clean energy. In addition, professionally administered 2015 polls for ClearPath find that 72 percent of Republicans “support accelerating the development and use of clean energy.”

Even in Texas, 78 percent of Republicans favor increased clean energy usage. And practice has validated these survey findings. For example, the Texas cities of Denton and Georgetown, both of which voted decisively for Donald Trump in 2016 and Mitt Romney in 2012, are excited to transition to 70 percent and 100 percent renewable power grids by 2019 and 2017, respectively.

solar-arraySo why are federal clean energy incentive programs in jeopardy now that the GOP will soon control Congress and the presidency? How does this chasm between GOP politicians, who have traditionally opposed clean energy support measures, and their pro-renewables constituents exist?

The root is money. Fossil fuel magnates are major GOP donors, and these campaign dollars are causing politicians to ignore the will of the people. And politicians worry little because few voters are passionate about this issue – relative to, say, abortion or guns – so straying from constituencies here does little harm at the ballot box.  In fact, when asked which issue to devote more of the national budget to, only 3 percent and 7 percent of respondents ranked energy and environment, respectively, as their highest priority, while 12 and 21 percent ranked these respective issues dead last.

At present, even though President-elect Trump received relatively few funds from fossil fuel donors, his Vice President, Mike Pence, has deep ties with the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel megadonors, as do a critical mass of Republicans in Congress. Predictably, as one of many steps to curtail clean energy’s momentum – and thereby disregard the wishes of over two-thirds of GOP voters – the Trump administration plans to tap climate skeptic and coal stalwart, Myron Ebell, to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency.

Strip campaign finance from the picture, and reasons to stall clean energy progress are few.

Fossil fuel proponents hail the industry for its jobs. Clean energy, however, generates more than twice the jobs as do coal and natural gas, all while using a fraction of the water and improving the air we breathe.

Another argument fossil fuel proponents commonly make is that renewables are too expensive.  However, analyses from top investment firms, such as Lazard and Deutsche Bank, show clean energy’s costs shoulder-to-shoulder with those of fossil fuels.

A third point fossil fuel proponents make is that developing domestic resources renders us less reliant on foreign energy sources. A fully-fledged transition to renewables, though, would render us even less reliant on foreign energy sources, for no one enjoys market power over the sun or the wind.

In short, even without considering climate change implications, benefits of clean energy are enormous.

wind-millsIt’s worth noting that campaign finance is not a problem unique to the Republican party; it skews motives of Democratic politicians as well. In the energy context, however, Republican politicians are the ones thwarting public opinion in exchange for dollars they receive from those with vested interests in preserving the status quo.

In every other major developed country, clean energy garners pervasive support. The same is true in the United States, except on Capitol Hill, rendering this issue a case study underscoring the need for campaign finance reform.

For now, though, even in November of a presidential election year, politicians are scrapping for morsels of bipartisanship when a ripe, fresh fruit hangs at eye level. If only Adam and Eve had displayed such discipline in the face of similar temptation.

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