Awhile back, Ron Pernick of Clean Edge wrote an article in which he outlined six aggressive federal policy changes required for the U.S. to take a leading role in clean energy.
With the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference around the corner, and the continuous stalemate of real government action, it might be a good idea to refresh the memory--even if a few of these items are already coming to fruition.
Pernick's Six Necessary Clean Energy Policies:
1) Enact a Federal Renewable Energy Standard (RES). For the past decade, states have been in a leadership role when it comes to renewable energy standards (RES) and renewable portfolio standards (RPS). California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an executive order to increase the state's RPS to 33 percent by 2020.
A federal RES of 20-25 percent by 2020 or 2025, designed with enforcement mechanisms -- real incentives for succeeding and penalties for failing -- is doable and desirable. And renewables must be clearly defined. Nuclear and "clean coal" should not be part of the equation.
2) Ensure Government Procurement of Clean Energy, Green Buildings, and Energy Efficiency. The federal government has often been a leader in moving markets via its procurement decisions. As one of the largest single purchasing entities in the world, its purchasing decisions can have a significant impact on success vs. failure for an industry.
Government agencies must not only create their own plans, but meet targets, offer transparent information, and influence suppliers. They would do well to take a page out of Wal-Mart's current sustainability initiatives, in which vendors need to supply to certain standards or get out of the way.
3) Overhaul energy subsidies to shift from imported fossil fuels to domestic clean energy. Historically, the U.S. has supported energy industries that are already relatively mature. Hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies are still provided to oil and gas industries that are controlled by some of the wealthiest companies on the planet. The federal government should reassess this focus on supporting profitable fossil fuel industries, and shift these subsidies to the industries of the future: solar, wind, geothermal, energy efficiency, and the like.
4) Improve Energy Efficiency Standards Across the Board. Energy efficiency, often called the "fifth fuel," is usually the least expensive option for reducing energy demand. The federal government can go a long way in reducing energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and U.S. reliance on foreign fossil fuel supplies by setting aggressive efficiency standards for vehicles, buildings, appliances, HVAC, industrial motors, and more.
5) Put a Price on Carbon. A highly contentious issue in the Senate, three major options could help bring the U.S. into alignment with other nations that are supporting climate policies and working to cap emissions. The options are not mutually exclusive:
Implement a transparent cap-and-trade system that has checks and balances to guarantee that the system results in meaningful carbon reduction.
Deploy a carbon tax along with a clear and enforceable cap -- and make sure the tax is near revenue-neutral. In other words, after a set amount of money is funneled into clean-energy development and deployment -- say $15 billion per year for a decade -- return the balance of tax receipts to individual taxpayers.
Retain the right for the EPA to move forward with regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act -- just like it does with other pollutants. The Supreme Court has ruled that the EPA has the right to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, and we believe the tool should be used if necessary. It has worked effectively for reducing other emissions.
6) Support the Build Out of New, Reliable Electric (Smart) Grids. The electric grids in the U.S. are outdated and deteriorating. Policies need to streamline and speed the process of building new lines to renewable generation sources -- and the federal government could play a supportive role in setting open standards for smart-grid devices and networks that make the grid more intelligent, efficient, and reliable.
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