Environment Forum

Americans are ready for a climate bill

Sugar cane harvester

Rona Fried is the CEO of SustainableBusiness.com, a news, networking, and investment site for green business, including a green jobs service and a green investing newsletter. The following opinions expressed are her own.

We are in a dire situation. One that our president recognized in his oval office address on Tuesday night: America has postponed overcoming our oil addiction for decades. The first call to wean ourselves from oil came more than three decades ago by President Carter in the late 1970s. Had we done it then, the job would have been completed in 1985. It is beyond time to end our dependence on oil. And Americans are finally ready to do it.

Recent polls say Americans want the government to prioritize renewable energy. One conducted by Benenson Strategy Group found that 63% of voters support an energy bill that limits pollution and encourages companies to use and develop clean energy.

Why, then, is the energy bill languishing in the Senate? The House approved a bill a year ago, and versions have passed in Senate committees. It’s time for a Senate vote. But like every single bill since Obama has entered office, Republicans have filibustered it, forcing 60 votes for passage instead of a simple majority.

Those 60 votes are nowhere to be found because conservative Democrats and all Republicans are against the bill. How can that be if the majority of Americans are in favor of it?

Ex-GOP diplomacy machine talking green

Unfairly or not, any discussion of the Republican party’s environmental record by clean energy advocates often includes a mention of the White House solar panels ditched under Ronald Reagan. Green-minded members of the Grand Old Party, on the other hand, would rather point to the birth of the Environmental Protection Agency under Richard Nixon. Either way, in what’s clearly a sign of the times, renewables featured high on the minds of three former GOP secretaries of state who popped up at various energy conferences in the San Francisco Bay Area this past week (One can only assume the timing was a coincidence).

George Schultz, who served under Reagan, probably surprised at least a few people when he counted himself as among those EV1 owners still regretting GM’s controversial scrapping of the electric car earlier this decade.  A Stanford professor and Hoover Institution fellow for the past two decades, Schultz had enjoyed driving it around campus. “I could even drive it up to San Francisco. I couldn’t go too many other places, but it’s a very useful car,” he said. “I was sorry to see that car taken off the market, it worked just fine.” Speaking at a meeting of energy economists last week alongside Chevron’s David O’Reilly, Schultz went on to join the oil company CEO in endorsing a carbon tax as more efficient than the cap-and-trade system favored by Congress.

On Monday, Condoleezza Rice also favored a carbon tax when she addressed the Silicon Valley Energy Summit at Stanford, where she too is a professor and Hoover fellow, while stressing the importance of not picking winners in the push for greener energy. “At this stage, we need to have an open field for all renewable alternatives to change the energy mix,” she said.

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