12/18/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Gearing Up to Advance the Green Economy

It's time to gear up to seize the opportunities to advance a greener economy and cleaner environment with the new Administration and new Congress. The Midwest and Great Plains states can become business and economic winners in growing the new green economy as discussed in previous blog posts. Moreover, when it comes to public policy changes, the nation's Heartland is also a linchpin to reform.

Twelve Midwest and Great Plains states contain many of the key swing United States Senators and Representatives. They will have a disproportionate role in determining whether national global warming legislation is strong or weak. We live and work in the most pivotal region in the most important country in the world when it comes to solving our global warming problems. Clean energy development is an important global warming solution in these key swing states. Here are some policy changes that should be achieved by the new Obama Administration and new Congress:

Put America on a leadership path for solving global warming problems: the moral, business, economic, policy, political and technology challenge of our generation. It's time for Congress to enact strong federal legislation to reduce global warming pollution and provide stronger incentives for clean energy development solutions.

National policies to significantly boost energy efficiency standards. In a tight economy, we really can't afford to waste energy and pass up energy cost savings. Energy efficiency is the best, fastest and cheapest way to reduce global warming pollution. It makes even more sense to save energy dollars and avoid pollution when household budgets are tight and businesses' bottom lines are suffering.

Enact a national Renewable Energy Standard policy that ramps up wind and solar power, and other clean energy to be 10% of the nation's energy supply by 2012 and 25% by 2025. This is a win-win-win: stimulating our stalled economy through development in both urban and rural communities, creating new green jobs, and improving environmental quality for everyone. Let's end the partisan filibustering that has held back wind and solar power and, instead, achieve consistent and strong federal policy support.

Invest in transit and high-speed rail. The federal surface transportation program guides more than $70 billion each year, and it will be reauthorized in 2009-2010. President-elect Obama is calling for a national infrastructure reinvestment bank to invest in, among other things, high-speed rail. The stars are aligning for a fundamental shift toward transportation investments, especially transit and high-speed rail, which increase mobility while reducing global warming pollution.

Let's not kid ourselves; achieving this agenda won't be easy. Ideological opponents are seizing on our country's economic crisis as a reason to put off action. But the scientists tell us that we must start now to seriously reduce global warming pollution. We can't just hit the "pause" button and hold off on corrective actions until the economy gets better. Besides, energy efficiency saves us money, and clean energy solutions can create jobs and grow the green economy.

Watch what's happening with American automakers pivoting to market plug-in electric hybrids and other clean cars sooner than previously advertised, accelerated deployment of clean wind power, technological breakthroughs with solar energy, advancements in new, more efficient battery technologies, and a lot more energy efficient homes, businesses and public buildings.

American technological innovation and leadership is focusing on cleaner energy and cleaner car technologies that can provide environmental solutions that can create the jobs of the future and grow the greener economy of the future. Let's gear up to achieve positive change for America's environment and greener economy.

Howard A. Learner is the executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Midwest's leading environmental and economic development advocacy organization. and