By: Heather Zichal, former deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change and one of the architects of President Obama’s national Climate Action Plan.
The disconnect between the reality of climate change and Donald Trump’s phony dismissal of the issue couldn’t be more frustrating to a country in need of solutions, not slogans. Hillary Clinton has promised to protect critical ongoing policies from the current administration. But unless there are new majorities in Congress, if elected she will face the same opposition and intractability on climate policy that President Obama faced.
The good news is that beneath all the noise and fury, there’s actually a clear path ahead to tackling climate change with solutions that are bold and potentially bipartisan. The next administration should seize the opportunity to build a historic partnership between business and government — an opportunity to prove once and for all that good climate policy creates good jobs.
Policymakers in Washington can choose to follow the path already blazed by state and local governments, including some dominated by conservative leaders. Utilities and business leaders long ago accepted the inevitable economic benefits of a transition to a clean energy economy — working cooperatively on everything from infrastructure and resilience projects to investments in energy efficiency and clean energy that save money. The Clean Power Plan, for instance, provides significant flexibility for states to comply and could include cooperative federal, state and private industry solutions for meeting reduction targets. The private sector already plays a significant role in energy efficiency and trading mechanisms that are key to meeting those targets as well.
The next administration should work with the private sector on similar cooperative planning and investments in green infrastructure, grid improvements and other measures that will create jobs and protect public health at the same time. In response to an executive order from Obama, the federal government is already a clearinghouse of information on climate resilience strategies, which help businesses prepare so that they can avoid transportation, supply chain and other interruptions. Broader public/private cooperation and planning on infrastructure could mean real jobs on the ground for Americans, just as investment in our national highway transportation system created millions of homegrown jobs directly and indirectly.
And what will happen if the public and private sector work more cooperatively? We will prove wrong all those who claimed that an aggressive climate agenda would be too onerous. I predict the respective state reduction targets of the Clean Power Plan will actually end up seeming modest by comparison to those we end up achieving simply through local and state policies as well as innovation from the private sector already underway.
Why? Over the past five years alone, U.S. wind power has more than doubled, now accounting for nearly 5 percent of our electricity. Solar output has grown even faster — by nearly 32 times. Meanwhile, prices for clean energy have fallen precipitously; nearly 60 percent for solar and wind since 2010. Big manufacturers, like the auto industry, have also decided that being part of the climate solution is good for the bottom line.
Let’s not kid ourselves, though: Tough decisions will have to be made. Whoever becomes president will need to provide real leadership to make sure that: 1) the United States is leading the transition to a clean energy economy; and 2) that we build on the progress we’ve made to date. We can’t just ignore climate change and hope for the best.