Energy and environmental issues figured prominently in the recent campaign, and November’s results gave us reason for optimism. But that doesn’t mean the environmental community can relax. On the contrary, our strong voice is more important now than ever.
The new administration and Congress face unprecedented challenges posed by the economy, two wars, the healthcare crisis, and other pressing issues. Our first task will be keeping the environment on their agenda as a priority. During the campaign, President-elect Barack Obama championed key environmental issues, including cap-and-trade legislation to address climate change, extending the Production Tax Credit to promote renewable energy, and a $150 billion package of green infrastructure projects that would create five million jobs. We will be there to help him pass these measures in Congress. But we also disagreed with parts of his campaign agenda, particularly his support for corn ethanol and so-called “clean coal,” and we will try to temper action in those areas.
In November the Alliance for Climate Protection launched a major new campaign to “Repower America” with 100 percent clean electricity, which we strongly endorse. Coal-fired power plants account for 31 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions in this country, and 100 new coal-fired plants are now permitted in the United States (some are already under construction) to meet projected demand for electricity. Once built, these plants will continue spewing greenhouse gases for decades, making it nearly impossible to achieve the long-term emissions reductions needed to avoid some of global warming’s worst impacts.
We can render these new coal plants unnecessary in two ways. First, by reducing demand for more electricity through efficiency, and second, by increasing the supply of clean electricity from wind, solar, and other renewable sources.
Efficiency works. California took strong action to increase efficiency in response to the electricity shortage of 2000. At that time, Vice President Dick Cheney derided conservation efforts like California’s as a matter of “personal virtue” rather than the basis for energy policy. Since then the state’s per capita demand for electricity has remained stable.
To increase the supply of clean electricity, we need to pay private entrepreneurs a fair price to produce it. This can be achieved through subsidies such as the Production Tax Credit, or by requiring utilities to buy clean electricity at a price that guarantees a return on investment. Congress will likely consider extending the Production Tax Credit when it convenes, and several states are now looking at “feed-in tariff” laws, which would require local utilities to pay a fair price for clean electricity. They would then pass the cost on to consumers.
Climate change is not the only issue on our agenda. We will continue advocating for the protection of birds, other wildlife, and their habitat. Several Bush-era policies should be reversed immediately, and we will push for reinstating full scientific review of decisions affecting threatened and endangered species, as well as decisions to lease federal lands for oil and gas development. We will advocate for Congress to follow through on its commitments to restore the Everglades and Long Island Sound, and for new investments to restore Mississippi River and Gulf Coast habitats. We need a new commitment to strengthen our National Wildlife Refuge System and to increase funding for the Neotropical Migratory Bird Act.
In the coming months we have the opportunity to make historic strides changing the direction of environmental policy. Unfortunately, it comes at a time of unprecedented economic turmoil. Merging the need to protect the environment with the creation of “green” jobs for the future is the path we must take now. We will need your help more than ever. To stay current about what you can do, visit our website at Audubon.org.
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