The Politics of Clean Energy: Moving Beyond the Beltway

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This article argues that the United States can achieve a new and smart energy policy and we are taking active steps in this direction. Public and private sector actors beyond the Beltway are crafting a clean energy agenda and promoting a new energy economy. This article describes the path for adopting that policy and sketches the politics of clean energy. This path is smoother than attempting to pass climate change legislation because there is a significant consensus about what the contours of a clean energy policy should be and there is an emerging clean energy politics that will drive that change. Much of the politics is occurring off Capitol Hill and beyond the Beltway. Clean energy politics are emerging despite the lack of Congressional leadership. The clean energy agenda is wise because a transition to a clean energy portfolio can promote environmental protection, stimulate the economy though innovation and job creation, advance national security and ultimately reduce the cost of energy consumption. For the purposes of this article, the concept of a clean energy policy is defined as: (a) an aggressive reduction in oil and coal consumption; (b) the use of natural gas as a transitional fuel once hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") is adequately addressed; and, (c) the rapid expansion of energy efficiency and renewable resources.

How does a national clean energy policy become officially adopted? This article describes the necessary elements for such a proposal to be adopted and argues that we, as a country, are more than half the way there. Of course, even "more than half the way" to the clean energy goal line is still a failure to score. Yet, the momentum toward a clean energy future is strong, the players are serious and many, and the policy choices are clear. What remains to be done is custom tailoring the political conversation to advance a clean energy agenda independent of an effort to address climate change. Fortunately, there is no either/or choice between clean energy and climate change. Rather, clean energy and climate change are complementary policies that can proceed simultaneously without one undermining the other. Nevertheless, the smart political choice is to focus on a smart energy future by designing an energy policy that is responsive to the threats posed by a warming planet while concentrating on clean energy markets and a new economy rather than on possible limits to resource use and economic growth.

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