12/01/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Model for the Nation

State College, PA and Seattle -- I was at Penn State during Barack Obama's 30 minute campaign video (it's sleazy and dishonest to call it an "infomercial;" we ought to be encouraging this kind of use of TV in place of 30- and 15-second spots). We were there to honor the efforts of PowerVote, the student-driven voter-engagement drive of which the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) is a member. At Penn State alone, PowerVote more than 4,500 new voters have registered -- more than 10 percent of the total student body -- and an almost equal number have pledged to vote on the basis of clean energy and green jobs. Nationally, more than 300,000 students have taken the pledge. Al Gore engaged in a nationwide video webcast with the students, and it was a real thrill that the three campuses he singled out at the start of the program -- the University of Maryland, Portland State, and the University of Georgia -- are all campuses with a very active SSC leadership role.

So I actually didn't get to see Obama, live, call out one and only one American company during his telecast: McKinstry, the Seattle-based energy-efficiency company that specializes in reducing energy waste in buildings. Obama promised that "I'll use companies like McKinstry as a model for the nation." But when I arrived today at McKinstry to do an energy-efficiency event with Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, I was quickly updated on how exciting it was that Obama has picked energy efficiency (of which Vice-President Cheney famously said "It may be a personal virtue but it is not an energy policy") as a centerpiece of his national closing argument.

Gregoire is probably "Governor Efficiency" -- her decision to line Washington State up with California's clean car standard was the key to bringing Detroit to the bargaining table for higher fuel-economy performance, and she may just have saved the U.S. auto industry. She passed the nation's first green-buildings standard, and she took the lead in forming the Western Climate Initiative.

She's in a surprising tough battle with Dino Rossi, who if elected would become "Governor Waste." Rossi's political base is bottom-feeding home builders, like the ones who battled viciously to keep their costs low and their buyers' utility bills high last month at the International Code Council.

Just as gasoline hit $4 gallon, Rossi declared that he wanted to shift funding from mass transit to highways. (He actually wants to shift a billion bucks from education to even more highways!) And he is solidly in the Palin wing of his party. Like Palin, he declares that he doesn't know what causes global warming but thinks we can solve it anyway. (Imagine a doctor telling you, "The test results say you have tuberculosis. But remember, the germ theory is just that -- a theory. I really don't want to worry about what the cause of your fever is. Antibiotics cost too much and the economy can't afford them. So just take two aspirin.")

So whether I'm in Pennsylvania or Washington, clean energy and green jobs have taken center stage at the grass roots. Now, can we propel them down Pennsylvania Avenue on January 20? Five more days!

NOTICE TO VOTERS (Required by law): Paid for by Sierra Club Political Committee,, and Sierra Club Healthy Communities Fund, 180 Nickerson Street, Suite 202, Seattle, Washington, and  not authorized or approved by any candidate or candidate's committee.