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Green Energy Opportunities Start with Smart Climate Policy

beineckeEach new commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is yet another indicator that the clean energy market will explode.

The question is: how rapidly will this market grow in the United States?

I have seen promising signs here in America. Green jobs, for instance, are growing 2.5 times as fast as traditional jobs. But there is another indicator as well: the enormous sense of possibility that is spreading across the country. Everywhere I go I meet people who want to design, invest in, or build the next wave of clean energy technology.

I have talked with researchers at MIT who are fired up to create the next generation of hybrid car batteries. I have met with green entrepreneurs in Ohio who are converting windshield factories to make solar panels. And I have heard from steel workers in Indiana who want to revive America’s industrial heartland by manufacturing wind turbines.

These people are doing what America has always done well: leveraged our ingenuity to become technological leaders.

But there is no guarantee that we will retain our leadership when it comes to clean energy.

Germany and Spain have long been leaders in clean energy, but now China has created stringent fuel-efficiency rules for vehicles and strong renewable energy standards. It is also reportedly preparing plans to invest between $440 billion and $660 billion in the next 10 years on alternative energy development. India’s cabinet meanwhile, just approved a bold plan for generating 20,000 megawatts from solar energy by 2022.

America has yet to take similar action. We remain dependent on dirty fossil fuels that endanger our national security and escalate the costs of curbing global warming.

The best way to secure a place in the global clean energy market is through smart policies. We need government incentives to get technologies out of the lab and into the marketplace, and we need pollution-reduction targets to increase demand for cleaner options.

The most powerful tool we have for accomplishing this is a law that puts a price on global warming pollution and directs investment into clean energy alternatives. Such a law will give businesses an incentive to invest in things like hybrid technology and highly efficient heating and cooling equipment, and it will reward consumers for buying more efficient appliances and better insulated homes.

The businesses supplying these low-carbon solutions will experience dramatic growth. NRDC’s experts say that contractors who can successfully manage commercial-scale green-building projects have more work than they can handle. The same will soon be true for energy auditors, smart grid engineers, green architects, and hybrid battery designers.

With the right policies, we can unleash this kind of growth. The good news is we are half way there. Back in June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act that set limits on global warming pollution. Now the Senate is considering its own version of the bill, a market-based pollution reduction and investment system based on the highly successful program for reducing acid rain. The bill has already garnered support not only from corporate giants like Alcoa and DuPont, but also from labor unions that welcome the potential to create millions of jobs.

However, some lobbyists remain wedded to the same old dirty energy technologies we have been using since the 19th century. You may have heard some of the people arguing against this bill claim that it won’t create new jobs, as if making sure our workers have the tools to compete in the burgeoning global market for green energy technology somehow just isn’t right.

Maybe you have heard similar comments from your business associates, your suppliers, or even your family members. There are Americans of good will who are the fence about climate legislation, and I recently wrote a book called “Clean Energy Common Sense” with them in mind. Drawing from the most authoritative voices in the field — including the Pentagon and CIA on national security and McKinsey & Company on business opportunities — I lay out the case for why climate legislation will generate economic prosperity and create millions of American jobs.

It will also be the mechanism that will dramatically expand clean energy demand at home and place America in a position of leadership in the global marketplace.

If you believe it is time for America to lead the way into the clean energy future, I urge you to tell your lawmakers to pass this bill. It is especially important that they hear from green entrepreneurs and businesspeople. But they also need to hear from a groundswell of Americans. Tell the people in your life and your business circles why clean energy and climate legislation is good for America’s economy. Then encourage them to call their lawmakers too.

Frances Beinecke is President of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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