Environment Picture

President's Column: Michigan’s Washington delegation hears from MEC as nation weighs energy future

True leadership is a combination of vision and action. Today, our political leadership often lacks both. Too many leaders are stuck in the past or present, unaware or unconcerned that their decisions today will impact our nation for 40 or 50 years.

This is especially true regarding energy policy. They often see our economy as a separate entity from our environment, or worse they see the economy pitted against the environment. That is not reality. In fact, our economy is wholly dependent on the biosphere, which is under incredible strain with major indicators moving in the wrong direction (including climate, fresh water, habitat loss, species loss).

Our political leadership needs to be cognizant of two facts. First, to be viable into the future, Michigan’s economy must rely on business models that generate revenue in ways that use fewer resources and revitalize nature capital. Second, creating these new business models requires well-educated, healthy people. And, increasingly, the most creative, industrious workers want to live in healthy, aesthetically and culturally rich communities.

We must design public policies that drive and enable the technologies and business models we want here in Michigan. We are in an economic war with other states and countries that clearly see the link between environmental health and economic prosperity. We cannot afford to be timid; delay is bad business for Michigan. If Congress and President Obama are serious about climate and clean energy legislation, then Michigan will face a new reality whether we choose it or not. So we might as well be bold, proactive, and get in front of the curve for a change.

To that end, MEC is working with Michigan’s Congressional delegation to get a strong federal Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS), and an effective carbon emissions reduction policy.

MEC Energy Program Associate Tremaine Phillips and I were in Washington, DC just last week to meet with our Congressional leaders. Both the U.S. House and Senate are looking at an RES of 25% by 2025, with an EERS included. Rep. Henry Waxman, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is trying to secure a cap and trade provision to reduce carbon emissions by 20% from their 2005 levels by 2025. Taken together, this three-pillar approach could help to spur renewable energy, energy efficiency and carbon emission reductions and create new green jobs right here in Michigan.

In Washington, we got good insight from each of the offices, including Sen. Harry Reid’s office. Michigan is well-represented on both the House Energy and Commerce Committee by Reps. Dingell and Stupak, and on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by Sen. Stabenow.

Much of the concern we heard from our Michigan delegation was whether or not our state could meet the new standards. It is apparent that our delegation needs to hear from constituents that strong standards will create more green jobs and reduce our impact on climate change. Higher RES and EERS will drive the demand for more wind turbines, solar panels, energy efficiency and weatherization upgrades and repairs—thus producing more green jobs. Michigan is positioned to take advantage of this higher demand, if we can get Congress to adopt these standards. The returns on these green investments are impressive. Every dollar spent on energy efficiency saves $3.50, and renewable energy produces three times the number of jobs as the same amount of electricity from fossil fuels.

According to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a national RES with a goal of 25% by 2025 will:
  • Create 297,000 new jobs from renewable energy development;
  • Produce $263.4 billion in new capital investments;
  • Provide $13.5 billion in income to farmers, ranchers and rural landowners;
  • Generate $11.5 billion in new local tax revenue;
  • Lower electricity and natural gas bills $64.3 billion by 2025, increasing to $95.5 billion by 2030; and,
  • Reduce by 2% global warming pollution by power plants from 2008 levels by 2025, which equals the elimination of 45.3 million cars.
This study showed that Michigan would save $2.78 billion in cumulative electricity and natural gas bill savings, under a 25% by 2025 national RES.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s March 2009 study found similar benefits for a strong EERS, with consumers saving $169 billion; creating 222,000 new jobs; and eliminating the need for 390 new power plants. An EERS will deliver energy at half the cost of power from coal, nuclear or natural gas power plants and will help to decrease greenhouse gas pollution by 262 million metric tons in 2020.

National policies do matter.

Germany, a country of 80 million people, has 54% of all solar power capacity worldwide. The United States has 9%. This disparity exists despite the fact that Germany has a lower capacity factor and fewer hours of sunlight and intensity than the U.S. Germany’s success was made possible by a strong national RES—30% renewable energy by 2020—and a national feed-in tariff policy. These policies have helped to create 250,000 jobs in the renewable energy sector in Germany by 2008, up from just 160,500 in 2004.

Our energy future rests in the hands of our political leaders in Washington and Lansing; they need to hear from all of us—not just from the fossil fuel interests that have enjoyed a disproportionate voice in past decisions. MEC is engaging and challenging our leaders to produce a strong clean energy future. We will continue to visit our leaders in Washington and Lansing. I know we can count on each of you to help by contacting your representatives as well.

MEC is ready and able to help you in connecting with your political leadership and providing any means of support necessary in these efforts. The outcome is too important to leave to chance or to those too timid to stride boldly into the future.
-Chris Kolb
RELATED TOPICS: clean energy, legislation
© Copyright Michigan Environmental Council, All rights reserved