Despite Friday's piece in the Times, there seems to be a growing consensus around Washington that the road to our nation's economic salvation will be laid in large part by a comprehensive, long term domestic energy initiative.
For starters, President-elect Obama has called for the doubling of our clean energy production in three years, and for major investments in retrofitting government buildings to become more energy efficient. Sure, there are the expected partisan comments about scrutiny and oversight, which both seem to be expected and welcomed by Obama. There are also other Democrats demanding even more energy-related actions than what Obama is proposing. Regardless, there is not much substantial disagreement coming from the minority party, but rather a general agreement that the President-elect's plan is right for America.
However, even with such a "Washington consensus," there are still plenty of questions that demand the public's attention? Will Congress act responsibly by truly focusing the majority of their energy-related legislative efforts, and our tax dollars, on domestic energy projects that lead the U.S. towards becoming global leaders in technology and infrastructure innovation? Will they finally make it a priority to develop and scale-up the energy technologies that pose the least risk to society and the environment, that create the most jobs the quickest, and that generate the greatest returns for every dollar invested?
To be clear, those projects involve energy efficiency, energy conservation and clean energy. Energy smart investments that allow current buildings to use less energy and new buildings to be efficient from the start can catapult the growth of this important industry -- important because of its potential to create jobs across the country and greatly reduce our nation's carbon emissions. (Note: Collectively, we use more energy, and create more greenhouse gases, to power our buildings than to run our transportation.)
And as great minds from Tom Friedman to Neil Young have written about on this website and others, the U.S. automotive industry now has its greatest opportunity to become the manufacturing leaders it once was by creating energy efficient automobiles that are in high demand the world over.
As important as it is to our economy and our environment for Congress to help create energy efficiency-related jobs that help our country be smarter about the energy we use, it is imperative that we also create jobs and a new energy infrastructure around another critical need: to simply obtain our nation's energy in a smarter way.
We have all seen reports of the devastation in eastern Tennessee from millions of tons of loosely contained coal ash waste that spilled out into precious land and waterways of America. This disaster has destroyed not just the area's vulnerable ecosystem, but has also ruined peoples' homes and ways of life -- not to mention threaten the health of thousands.
Is it responsible for our nation to focus on building more coal-fired power plants when they destroy our air quality and run the risk of imposing even greater, more immediate disasters like what happened in Tennessee? Is it responsible to invest in expanding the coal industry when clean energy industries like wind, solar, geothermal, small hydro and others are poised to scale-up and expand nationwide with the right investments in research, development and marketing?
Clean energy and energy efficiency jobs are available today. Period. The time it would take to see significant job creation, as well as the potential for long-term job retention, from investments in developing new coal, or nuclear, power plants simply do not compare to the jobs waiting in the clean energy and energy efficiency industries.
The development of new nuclear power facilities would carry the same shortcomings as developing new coal plants -- building one will not lead to the immediate jobs or affect the nation's current energy paradigm the same way that investments in clean energy and energy efficiency technologies can and will. Additionally, nuclear power still involves extremely hazardous waste, which no one wants (See: Yucca Mountain) and that we really have not figured out the best way to store. Plus, one earthquake in Japan in 2007 demonstrated the vulnerability of modern nuclear facilities, and the risk they still pose to surrounding populations and ecosystems.
The fossil fuel and nuclear industries still have the majority of sway when it comes to lobbying dollars and "established" influence on Capitol Hill. Let's all call upon our elected officials in Congress to develop a stimulus package that truly looks out for the American people by creating jobs in clean energy and energy efficiency, instead of one that looks out for the big polluters who have been cutting jobs for decades.
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