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Keith Harrington

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Time for Obama's "Marriage Equality Moment" on Clean Energy

Posted: 05/22/2012 10:45 am

In case you missed it, scientists at Harvard and Yale released yet another study in April demonstrating the widening disconnect between public attitudes on clean energy and the rhetoric and policy choices emanating from Washington.

The study
, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found a solid majority of Americans would be willing to pay more on their energy bills if they knew their money was being invested in truly renewable power sources like wind and solar. And 'more' doesn't mean pocket change. If the option was to pay an additional $35 a year or nearly three bucks monthly, a whopping 81 percent of respondents would be happy to pony up. Even at $155 per year, or an extra $12 a month, a solid majority (56 percent) of Americans would have no problem opening their wallets for clean power. (For reference, three dollars per month is just a bit more than the statewide distributed household cost of getting a moderate-sized offshore wind power farm constructed, as we've been trying to do in Maryland).

That's got to come as a blow to the Solyndra-gate spin-doctors, whose endless conniptions and campaign-trail digs about the failed solar manufacturer have apparently failed to persuade American voters that the entire clean-energy industry is a massive socialistic boondoggle. Instead, it seems many Americans have managed to grasp a simple fact that has unsurprisingly through the spin-doctors' oil-greased fingers: that there's no way our domestic clean-energy industry can compete when we feed it crumbs and countries like China gorge their manufacturers on subsidies.

But that's not all the study revealed. The polling also cast some doubt upon the political necessity of embracing an "all of the above" energy strategy, as the Obama administration has chosen to do with increasing vigor in the run up to the 2012 election. That strategy says you can't call for boosting clean-energy development without also calling for increased production of dirty-energy sources like natural gas and nuclear. If that were unquestionably the case, poll results should have found an increased willingness to pay higher energy costs if the extra money were going toward renewables and dirty energy. But they didn't. Instead, the Harvard study found that for a variety of price levels, public support for higher energy costs either stayed about the same or declined when natural gas and nuclear were thrown into the mix.

That might be food for thought for an administration looking to generate election-year enthusiasm in its liberal base. To the climate-action crowd, embracing an all-of-the-above strategy on energy is a lot like trying to say you're evolving on the issue of same sex marriage. It's lukewarm and leaves your base lukewarm. It means you want to placate everyone -- and unfortunately like gay marriage, energy and climate policy has become far too polarized an issue for such ambivalence. It's high time for President Obama's "marriage-equality moment" on climate and clean energy. It's time to unequivocally say "I do" to real solutions. As with marriage equality, the president might be pleasantly surprised to find that coming out means no love lost on the right and a surge of enthusiasm from a politically active constituency.

Now if only the veep would make a slip about how much he loathes fracking and loves the thought of a carbon fee-and-dividend program.

 

Follow Keith Harrington on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kharring

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