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How Did Clean Energy Fare in the Election?

J. Mijin Cha

After an election season of climate silence that endured despite record-breaking temperatures and prolonged drought, not to mention Superstorm Sandy, President Obama stated in his victory speech that, we want our children to live in an America, “that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.” While it was a relief to hear the President acknowledge the threats we face from cliamte change, what can actually be done about it remains to be seen, particularly given that past history has shown that the House GOP is not exactly fond of transitioning to a clean energy economy.

At the state level, there was good and bad news for clean energy development. California voters approved two measures that will substantially boost support for the renewable energy sector. Particularly good news is Proposition 39, which modifies the state’s corporate tax code to taxing sales rather than payroll and will generate an additional $1.1 billion in annual revenue. For the first five years, half of that revenue will go to renewable energy development. The dedicated funding will provide stability and predictability for the emerging industry, two market fundamentals needed for growth. Not to mention, taxing sales stops taxing employers based on the number of employees, thereby encouraging hiring. It also ensures that companies like Facebook that have few employees but large revenue streams, pay their fair share.

Renewable energy did not fare as well in Michigan, as voters rejected an initiative to double the state’s renewable energy production to 25 percent by 2025. Adopting the measure would have created at least 74,000 jobs and an estimated $10 billion in investment. Opponents of the measure argued that it would not allow any room for energy emergencies and that most jobs created would be out of state. In fact, the opposite would have occurred. Diversifying energy sources actually increases energy stability because people aren’t overly dependent upon one source. And, the job creation estimates were 31,513 job years from construction and 42,982 job years from operations and maintenance of the actual renewable energy plants in-state -- jobs that by definition cannot be outsourced out of state.

The outlook for renewable energy support remains uncertain. The production tax credits, vital for the sector, have not yet been renewed. The right-wing advocacy group, ALEC, is planning an all out assault against state renewable energy targets. And, even though he mentioned the threat of global warming, the President continually touts an “all of the above” energy plan that includes expanded oil and gas drilling, already occurring under his Administration.

Climate change is real and already happening. The best case scenario is we take bold, comprehensive action to stop the worst impacts of it. The actions we need to take remain the same: ratchet down fossil fuel use and production, transition to an economy fueled by clean energy, and decrease our overall energy use.

So, when will our policymakers start adopting these actions?