Energy Blast On Capitol Hill

Bill Scher

The Apollo Alliance Summit took its campaign for energy independence and good jobs to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, meeting with members of Congress and their staffs and pressing for increased government support of renewable energy.

On the Hill, the Apollo agenda got an embrace from presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton during a lunch-time meeting. It is a “tremendous asset” to bring together “those who care about the environment and those who care about the economy,” Clinton told the group.

Clinton promoted her legislation to create a Strategic Energy Fund that would invest in clean technology and boost financial incentives, paid with the record profits of Big Oil: “We have to tell the oil companies to pay or play … either invest more [on your own,] or pay into a strategic energy fund.” She also talked of job-creation efforts in upstate New York involving biofuelsclean coal and green buildings.

Also giving the Apollo agenda a ringing endorsement was Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who called the labor-environmental partnership at the heart of the Apollo Alliance “a marriage made in heaven. This is a marriage that will move heaven and earth.”

Both Clinton and Sanders echoed the theme of the entire summit, which is, as Sen. Sanders proclaimed it, “to be pro-environment is to be pro-jobs.”

Sanders touted his climate change legislation, which would slash greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent (from 1990 levels) by 2050, as the ”most comprehensive global warming legislation” in the Senate. He noted that “some say it’s too radical, but it may not be radical enough.”

Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., who addressed Summit attendees before they went to visit congressional offices, deemed the Apollo Alliance the “most important coalition” in America today, because “this is a matter of our American destiny … to lead the world in solving this global warming crisis.”

He cautioned that without strong government policies to quickly create clean energy jobs, those jobs would go to other countries such as China, Germany, England and Denmark. He argued that a cap-and-trade system to limit carbon dioxide emissions was needed to create those jobs. Otherwise, “companies use the atmosphere as their garbage dump for free.”

Inslee characterized the debate as between “the optimists and pessimists,” and Americans are “the greatest optimists in the world and the greatest innovators in the world.”

The message to the Hill from the Apollo Summit, which had been meeting since Sunday, was spelled out vividly in speeches delivered Monday night at a conference dinner.

Keynote speaker Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell emphasized that the development of renewable energy is not just “a race for energy independence” but also “a race for economic superiority,” where we will lose our strong economic position in the world if we drag our feet. “It is absolutely criminal that we are moving at a snail’s pace.” (Watch the video.)

Rendell pointed to the Gamesa wind energy project in Pennsylvania as a model. Gamesa representative Michael Peck already addressed the dinner audience, explaining how their “sustainable partnership” with the United Steelworkers is on its way to bring 1,000 well-paying, high-skill union jobs to the Keystone State.

Sierra Club president Carl Pope refuted notions that a healthy environment is not compatible with a strong economy, asking aloud, “Can we have a good jobs without a good environment? No.” AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka offered a vision of a sustainable economy, with fair trade policies lifting up global labor and environmental standards, and energy policies that rebuild America’s manufacturing base. Trumka pronounced “it’s time for an environmental intervention.”

And Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer called for federal funding for cities so mayors can take the lead in creating clean energy jobs, warning that “we can no longer behave as if there aren’t any consequences from inaction.”

The Apollo Summit demonstrated that environmentalists, labor leaders, local elected officials and key businesspeople are finding the common ground that can be the basis for bold and immediate federal leadership. The excuses for legislative stalemate are disappearing.

Bill Scher blogs for the Campaign for America’s Future.

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