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The Art of the Possible in Energy and Environment Policy

By Amy Harder
National Journal
Do the results of the 2012 election pave the way for Washington to achieve bipartisan energy and environment policies?

Do the results of the 2012 election pave the way for Washington to achieve bipartisan energy and environment policies?

With President Obama winning another four years in the White House, Democrats retaining control of the Senate, and Republicans keeping control of the House, things look generally the same now as they did before Election Day. Democrats gained two seats in the Senate and are expected to gain a handful in the House as well. Time will tell whether these gains translate into a more ambitious--and successful--congressional agenda.

In theory, a second-term president has the political freedom to implement more ambitious policies than in a first term when seeking reelection. Whether Obama pursues that route and has cooperation from Congress is an open question, especially on such controversial issues as climate change and energy policy.

What pieces of legislation and administrative action in the areas of energy, environment, and climate policy could garner bipartisan support in a postelection atmosphere? Can the election wipe away the partisan rancor that has dominated the country's political discourse during this election cycle? Or, will the election deepen the partisan divide?

Response from Mindy Lubber, President, Ceres: We Need to Drop Political Games

The long campaign is over. The ballots have been counted, the super PAC money spent, and the country is ready to move on. “Forward,” as the Obama campaign put it.

Last week’s vote sent a strong signal that Americans want action on our environmental and economic challenges – not massive rollbacks in environmental regulations and fossil fuel-only energy solutions. But as the nation comes to term with fiscal challenges, sluggish job growth and residue of political bickering, how much environmental progress can we realistically expect?

I see big possibilities, but only if we drop the narrow-minded political games and pay closer heed to the American voters—and businesses—that are thirsting for stronger policies on clean energy and climate change.

Voters understand that common-sense government policies, environmental protections and economic growth are not mutually exclusive. They proved that on Election Day in states like Ohio, where a government bailout reinvigorated the auto industry and new robust fuel economy standards are spawning new technologies, new companies and thousands of new jobs. The 54.5 miles per gallon standards will save drivers nearly $2 trillion on gasoline and reduce auto emissions that contribute to climate change.

After a campaign season marked by silence on the climate, Hurricane Sandy was a wakeup call. The storm reminded us of our nation’s vulnerability to extreme weather and the urgency for action. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and key members of the insurance industry like the CEO of Munich Re – none of them exactly, left leaning tree-huggers – are among those sounding the alarm to make our cities more resilient and to curb global warming pollution.

When you consider the fact that – despite the great toll on citizens and their property – the largest share of insured losses may come from “business interruption,” there is a clear, economic case for mitigating climate risks. And, the Administration may gain the support it needs from the business community to take action on the climate.

Even before Hurricane Sandy, large U.S. companies were pushing for stronger climate-related policies, particularly with regard to renewable energy. In September, a group of nearly 20 companies, including Sprint, Pitney Bowes and Yahoo!, wrote to Congressional leaders urging them to extend the Production Tax Credit (PTC), a key federal provision supporting wind power set to expire at the end of the year. Last month, investors with $800 billion in assets joined them in a similar call.

These companies take clean energy seriously because they want to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, which are warming the planet and are prone to volatile price swings. Another benefit: renewable energy creates jobs. Navigant Consulting estimates that extending this tax credit for four additional years will create nearly 100,000 new wind-supported jobs and $16.3 billion in new investment by 2016. It’s common-sense policy that should be extended.

The Obama administration must call attention to these pressing energy and environmental concerns – and I have confidence it will. But when the President reaches inevitable roadblocks, he should look to the business community for support. On energy and the climate, smart companies are truly the ones moving “forward.”

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