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Brian F. Keane Headshot

The Real Meaning of "Smart Power"

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When I picked up my copy of this week's Time magazine, I was momentarily stopped in my tracks by Massimo Calabresi's cover story: "Hillary Clinton and the Rise of Smart Power."

It was a great read -- but I couldn't help but think that, in discussing the Obama administration's use of smart power in its foreign policy, Calabresi was missing the bigger story: the fight for sensible energy policy right here on American soil, which my 10-year-old organization, SmartPower, is waging on the ground in communities across the country every day.

SmartPower's work across the country -- helping homeowners lower their energy bills through energy efficiency behavior change campaigns, creating on-the-ground solar outreach campaigns, and bringing state and municipal leaders together to clear the path for electric vehicles -- may not have much to do with what's going on in Libya or Greece. But it has plenty to do with another reason Secretary Clinton has been in the news recently: American energy independence, and the State Department's involvement in negotiating approval for the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Keystone XL will transport one of the world's dirtiest forms of fossil fuel energy - tar sands oil - from Canada, down through the American heartland, to the Gulf Coast. Along the way, this pipeline will traverse aquifers, wildlife habitats, and some of the country's most beautiful natural settings.

Many people with far more expertise than me have said the short-term job creation benefits of building this pipeline would be far outweighed by long-term health effects and degradation of natural resources.

The State Department, under Secretary Clinton's leadership, has been lambasted for conducting a shoddy review process for the pipeline (it's their bailiwick, since the KXL will cross from Canada into the U.S.). With honchos at State essentially allowing an interested contractor to prepare the environmental impact review, the Keystone saga is bad news for Obama supporters, many who took him at his word when he said, "Let's be the generation that finally frees America from the tyranny of oil."

The worst part is that weeks of focus on the KXL has sucked both oxygen and action from our progress on clean energy. Just this week, Cape Wind faced another frustrating setback after 10 years of prevailing through fierce opposition to what will be America's first offshore wind farm. Why can't Obama get this moving? The United Kingdom has more than a dozen offshore wind farms - and it's roughly the size of Oregon.

This is why I find it hard to focus on the true point of Calabresi's piece, good as it is. As many Obama supporters wait for the president's answer on whether or not the Keystone's conduit of dirty oil will run from Canada through the heartland of America, it is crucial that we're reminded of the real smart power - the real need for common-sense energy policies that create clean jobs and will protect future generations of American workers.

Short-term fixes like the Keystone XL, that will cost our nation dearly in health problems and contaminated natural resources, are anything but smart. Thousands of people formed a ring around the White House on Sunday in opposition to the pipeline. Both President Obama and Secretary Clinton should take note.

Brian Keane is the President of SmartPower, a non-profit marketing organization funded by private foundations to help build the clean energy marketplace by helping the American public become smarter about their energy use.

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