Two weeks ago, our country witnessed a dramatic shift in the political landscape that will undoubtedly play a major role in the direction of energy policy for our nation. For those of us who are intimately involved in the difficult work of helping to navigate an accessible course towards a clean energy future for our nation, we realize we will need to reach across the aisle and find common ground with conservatives. It would be egregious to believe that we can make any significant progress on clean energy over the next two years and while smart grid technology presents an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to work together, energy efficiency remains the more promising option.
Critics of President Obama's energy policies blame attempts to pass energy legislation as one of the many reasons resulting in the loss of Democratic seats in the mid-term elections. However analysis suggests specific votes like the House climate bill had little to no effect on the outcome of the election. An exit poll of 1,000 voters in battleground districts commissioned by the League of Conservation Voters found that only 1% of voters were discontent with the Democratic candidate because of a policy position relating to energy. The source of discontent for many Americans is unarguably the economy and lack of jobs. Energy efficiency represents a cost effective option for bi-partisan consensus, while easing concerns over the national deficit and government spending and offers Congress an opportunity to provide attainable solutions for our waning economy.
The word "climate change and global warming" has continued to be a point of contention among many people across the country and many conservative leaning voters still doubt the validity that climate change is a man-made phenomenon. The notion of climate change also tends to challenge some of their religious beliefs. Many incoming members of Congress have publically denounced climate change as a real threat. To make matters worse, many major media outlets are already planning next year's news agenda and have decided to leave climate change off the list.
Energy efficiency speaks directly to the current state of the economy and people's immediate needs to save money on rising energy costs. While this strategy falls short of placing a price on carbon, it does accomplish a secondary goal of climate change proponents, which is raising awareness of environmental degradation and promoting sustainability. Energy efficiency offers the Obama administration a new way to approach passing energy legislation with a Republican-controlled House while stimulating the economy through energy cost savings.
By making energy efficiency a focal point of future energy legislation, we can begin to move the ball forward with Republican support. Both Republican and Democratic members of Congress and will do well to draft clean energy legislation in the form of tax incentives for energy efficiency focused programs that benefit the constituents that sent them to Washington and begin the hard work of pulling our economy out of one of the worst economic downturns in recent history. Members of Congress from both parties representing states hardest hit by the economic recession like Michigan and Nevada, which leads the nation in home foreclosures, could find particular favor among voters by using energy efficiency to stimulate their home states' economies.
By promoting energy efficiency, we introduce a new opportunity to stimulate the economy in the form of energy savings. For instance, energy savings can be realized through programs that promote replacing outdated appliances with new energy star appliances and weatherizing homes throughout the country. Tax incentives can be offered to homeowners that subscribe to these energy saving programs.
History has shown that public perception to these types of programs is positive. Similar programs like the Car Allowance Rebate System or more commonly known as the "Cash for Clunkers" program of 2009 where automobile owners traded in older model vehicles for new energy efficient vehicles through government rebates was widely viewed as successful in promoting sustainability among consumers.
The Obama administration will face an uphill battle when attempting to pass substantive energy legislation over the next 2 years, however, energy efficiency remains the most viable option to gain consensus amongst Democrats and Republicans to help move our nation towards a clean energy future.
Rhon Hayes is the cofounder of GREEN DMV. GREEN DMV promotes clean energy and green jobs in low-income communities as a pathway out of poverty.