Wind turbines operate at a wind farm near Milford, Utah
George Frey/Reuters

The future of the green economy lies with the states


This election cycle, environmentalists will pour over one hundred million dollars into Red States like Montana in a valiant attempt to maintain Democratic control in the Senate. This money is being spent so that, in the best of circumstances, we will have another two years of bitter, partisan trench warfare in Congress without any progress.

“Until we can fix Washington, we need to focus our energies on our states. We need to put on hold our dreams of one silver bullet, and replace it with 50 shells of silver buckshot.”
It is clearly important to stop the Koch brothers-funded Republicans from taking over the Senate. They have made no secret of their intent to strip away the protections that keep our air clean and our children healthy. But we will never be able to build a greener, fairer and more prosperous country by staying hunkered down in a managed retreat. And in the fight to prevent climate change, time is not on our side.

Until we can fix Washington, we need to focus our energies on our states. We need to put on hold our dreams of one silver bullet, and replace it with 50 shells of silver buckshot.

States have jurisdiction over electricity markets, building codes, transportation infrastructure, and so many other parts of the economy that can be made cleaner and more efficient. Over the past decade, we have seen some lawmakers use these powers to make impressive progress on combating climate change at the state level. A significant portion of the almost 10% reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions since 2005 can be attributed to aggressive state policies. Over the next decade, we have the opportunity to build on these victories.

California, for instance, has led the country in ensuring that our vehicles use less gas per mile traveled, that more of our electricity comes from clean renewables like solar and wind, and that our homes and offices are built so that they sip energy rather than gulp it. California even passed cap-and-trade legislation, limiting the amount of greenhouse gas pollution that the state can produce every year. But despite California’s green image, all those victories were hard fought and went down to the wire. Over the last fifteen years, Big Oil has spent over $140 million on California political campaigns and over $120 million lobbying the state legislature in an effort to roll back California’s climate policy and prevent any further progress. We will only be able to build on our victories in states like California with strategic focus and intense commitment.

We also have the opportunity to build on victories in conservative states. Although you wouldn’t know by the votes of House Republicans, recent polls have shown over 60% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say America should take action to reduce our fossil fuel use, and 77% say we should use more renewable energy sources. The closer you get to the American people – and the further you get from the Koch brothers’ fossil fuel money – the more you see Republican state legislators and city councilors advancing a bold clean economy agenda.

“While our representatives in Washington play partisan thumb wars, we have reason to celebrate this Earth Day.”
Georgia – a state that voted 53.4% for Romney in 2012 – recently required its largest utility, Southern Company, to purchase an additional $1 billion or more of solar electricity. The very public fight that led up to that decision was led by Debbie Dooley, national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots. She brought together activists from Georgia’s Tea Party Patriots, Sierra Club, NAACP and Occupy Atlanta to form a Green Tea Coalition that opposed Southern Company’s attempts to prevent homeowners from generating their own solar power and forcing them to buy their electricity from a state-regulated monopoly. Despite strong opposition from Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers-funded group, the George Public Utilities Commission passed the pro-solar legislation by a 4-to-1 vote.

In Salt Lake City – the capital of a state that voted 72% for Romney in 2012 – residents have built one of the most vibrant new public transit systems of any metropolis in the United States. The city now has a system of interconnected commuter rail, light rail streetcars, bus rapid transit and conventional bus routes that transport nearly 200,000 riders a day and growing. In 2006, these overwhelmingly Republican voters even approved a sales tax increase to bring forward the completion of a $2.5 billion light rail extension by 15 years. I guess Grover Norquist forgot to sign up the citizens of Salt Lake City for his famous no-tax pledge. Further extensions to the commuter rail and streetcar system are already in the works, as is growth of the already successful bike share program.

While our representatives in Washington play partisan thumb wars, we have reason to celebrate this Earth Day. Across this country – in Red States and Blue States – Americans are taking the fight for cleaner and more prosperous communities into their own hands. And in much of the country, they’re just about winning.

Nicholas Josefowitz is the founder of Leadership For A Clean Economy.

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