More Like an Oil Spill Than a Landslide

11/03/2010 06:29 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The 2010 election was the year of The Empire Strikes Back. Big Oil, the coal industry, and corporate polluters are desperate to stop the momentum toward clean energy that's been building for years. You can't stop the construction of 139 coal-fired power plants, implement the first-ever fuel-economy standards for medium and heavy trucks, or put the "protect" back into the Environmental Protection Agency without provoking a reaction.

In this case, the Dirty Energy Empire broke all campaign spending records and used their financial Death Star to target any politician who took a stand on clean energy and global warming. It may not have been a subtle strategy, but it was effective. What it doesn't change, though, is that most Americans still disagree with Big Oil and Big Coal about environmental and energy issues.

Given a clear choice between moving toward a clean-energy future that brings new jobs versus staying stuck in the old, dirty-energy past, Americans will vote for the future.

You don't have to take my word for it -- because that's exactly what happened in California. Voters decisively defeated Proposition 23, which was aimed at rolling back the state's landmark clean energy and climate law. When clean energy and already-existing green jobs went head-to-head on the ballot against economic scare tactics from Big Oil, voters didn't fall for it -- even though the state has the third-highest unemployment numbers in the nation.

Big Oil was defeated because the Sierra Club, along with a broad coalition of other environmental groups, clean tech companies, small businesses, public health advocates, and organized labor, worked hard to make sure that voters both knew the true intention and real consequences of that initiative. But another reason for Prop. 23's defeat is that advocates for the new-energy economy -- from Silicon Valley venture capitalists to Bill Gates himself -- stepped up to counter the more than $10 million in deceptive advertising that was spent by out-of-state oil companies.

In the short term, it's not good that there will be more climate deniers and dirty-energy apologists in Congress and in Statehouses. It's deeply disappointing that so many of the Sierra Club's allies and supporters suffered defeats. But it's not a short-term future we're fighting for. We're fighting for America's future -- and that means continuing to build a clean-energy economy at the local, state, and, yes, federal level.

When we win, it will mean millions of new jobs, freedom from dependence on foreign oil, and a cleaner, healthier environment for all Americans. And on that day, the headline will read "The Empire Struck Out."