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An Open Letter to President Obama for Obama II

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Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on your reelection and on walking Congress back from the "fiscal cliff." Good luck with the upcoming debt ceiling and budget cuts negotiations, too.

Here are recommendations for your second term that will address energy-climate change challenges while expediting economic growth, spurring innovation, and creating more jobs.

A Brookings Institution study found that "newer 'cleantech' segments produced explosive job gains and the clean economy outperformed the nation during the recession..." and that "(m)edian wages in the clean economy... are 13 percent higher than median U.S. wages." Energy companies are boasting about creating millions of jobs too.

Thank you for including tax credits for renewable energy in the fiscal cliff deal, and for emphasizing clean energy and climate change in your recent interviews and your speech after winning reelection. I presume that means you plan to do more in energy and climate change, even though it will be controversial and require strong leadership.

Go for it! You have the business community at your back, despite the oil and gas lobbyists' claims. In a recent study by the global consulting firm Accenture, "more than nine in 10 business executives believe that sustainability is of significant importance to their business" with 44 percent saying it is "critical" to their businesses. " Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric and a revered leader who headed up your Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, said on Charlie Rose recently that energy was a key issue for the country.

So, plow forward with aggressive, "Big Hairy Audacious Goals" and engage the public on clean, affordable energy as aggressively as you campaigned for president. Be bold!

Here are 10 ideas to help drive a clean energy economy:

• Reduce the oil and gas industry "subsidies" and require investment: In exchange for these subsidies, require that the companies invest those funds in clean energy technologies. As President Reagan used to say, "Trust but verify." As a provision of qualifying for the subsidy, require that they provide evidence the funds went to clean fuels investments (current levels are insufficient).

• Increase the investment in ARPA-E to drive innovation in clean energy. As Cheryl Martin, Ph.D. Deputy Director of ARPA-E said on my panel on "The New Ecosystem of Innovation" at the Greenbiz VERGE conference in November, government programs provide critical "catalytic" funding "to remove a certain amount of technical risk... for things that are too early for it to make a corporate portfolio." The funding can come from the savings in reduced oil and gas "subsidies."

• Since the Republicans are not likely to eliminate the oil and gas subsidies, at least reduce them and create more public-private partnerships to develop 100 percent "clean coal" by 2020, such as those in the Energy Department's Clean Coal Power Initiative (CCPI), including with universities. Six such projects were announced but three withdrew, so at the very least replace the three projects that withdrew. We will not be getting off coal any time soon and we can solve this challenge with American ingenuity.

• Demand that "fracking" be 100 percent environmentally sound by Dec. 31, 2013, with the EPA conducting random testing at sites. This is crucial, especially as natural gas becomes a larger percentage of our energy supply.

• Establish national clean energy standards. As stated in The Center for American Progress report Taking Action on Climate Change:

There's no mystery about what kind of federal policy reform is necessary to ensure that a significant percentage of America's energy is generated from low-carbon sources: passing a national clean energy standard that provides the long-term market signal needed by utilities and other industries to make big, job-creating capital investments in clean energy.

You saw how the rise in fuel efficiency standards you demanded for automobiles drove innovations in that sector and created jobs. Look at what various states, and other countries like Germany and Denmark, are doing as well.

• Put a price on carbon. It will create revenue without raising taxes and will drive innovation. As the VP of the Environmental Defense Fund (and your former energy and environment adviser on the National Economic Council) Nat Keohane wrote recently in Bloomberg Businessweek:

The most scientifically sound and economically efficient policy step is to limit carbon pollution via a cap or tax. A $20-per-ton carbon price -- collected as a tax or by auctioning carbon allowances -- would raise on the order of $100 billion per year while creating powerful economic incentives to curb pollution in the most cost-effective manner (and develop new technologies to do so).

• Develop more public-private partnerships to innovate clean energy solutions, such as the Department of Energy Small Business and Clean Energy Alliance Partnership, which provided funding to incubators of promising clean energy start-ups. We need to enable clean energy ingenuity and these start-ups won't survive without support. On my VERGE Innovation panel, Dr. Martin described the "network" ARPA-E has built with Duke Energy, the Electric Power Institute, and the Department of Defense, for example.

• Adopt creative financing options for renewable energy innovation, such as Master Limited Partnerships recommended by one of your top picks to be Energy Secretary in Obama II, former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter on Platt's Energy Week, and in the recent NREL report. The NREL report talks about MLP's and other "renewable power project securitization" options, the Green Bank, and your home town of Chicago's Infrastructure Trust. It says securitization "may offer the opportunity... for wide-scale and rapid investment."

• Get the Infrastructure Bank created, and make sure energy efficiency and renewable energy incentives and financing are included, as well as the smart grid. Maybe Vice President Biden can work his magic on this like he did with Senator McConnell on the fiscal cliff negotiations.

• "Remember the ladies," as Abigail Adams admonished her husband John Adams in 1776. Women are being woefully left behind in the energy/climate change economic boom, and it's unacceptable and ineffective. Women hold only 12 percent of the jobs in the industries of mining, quarrying, oil, and gas extraction; 15 percent of the green economy jobs; and 24 percent of STEM jobs overall. Don't you want your daughters to have a fair shot at these lucrative jobs?

Today, many green economy jobs remain unfilled. There are nearly 500,000 green economy jobs posted on Monster.com, and more than half are going unfilled, as Susan Fallon, vice president of Government Solutions of Monster.com told me on Green Connections Radio™ a couple of weeks ago.

Help fill the jobs-skills gap by incentivizing energy companies to hire women, and to contract with women-owned small businesses. Also, set and enforce higher set-asides for WOSBs in energy industry-related government contracts, holding agency leadership accountable for meeting them. To strengthen these initiatives, fix the inconsistencies in reporting on jobs and small businesses in energy and green economy companies, and include gender.

Use your bully pulpit and your executive powers to sell the public on the urgency, drive energy innovation and distribute the related economic opportunities equitably. Ask the American people to stop punishing compromise and to start rewarding it instead.

Seize the moment, Mr. President.

You have a new Congress -- with a record number of women -- and you are unencumbered by election pressures. Inspire the new Congress to turn their backs on fear and embrace disruptive ideas. As Einstein said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

The decisions you make now will determine our energy and climate future for generations. How many more extreme, expensive and deadly storms will it take?

Happy New Year.

All the best,

Joan Michelson

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