Set The Course Make The Case For Capping Carbon With GE

Bill Scher

At a time when the American public is primarily anxious about the current state of the economy, and after the last Congress proved that the politics around climate policy are miserably and treacherously complicated, it wouldn’t appear to make much sense for the President to prioritize the climate crisis in his State of the Union address.

But he should, for one simple reason: his EPA has already begun doing something about it. So he best defend it.

President Obama barely missed a beat after comprehensive clean energy jobs and carbon cap legislation hit a brick wall in the Senate. Understanding that the clock is ticking on the climate crisis and we have no time left to lose, the EPA insisted it would use what power it already had under the Clean Air Act to at least begin the process of cutting our carbon emissions.

Conservatives see this as another opportunity to falsely scapegoat “job-killing regulations” for the havoc deregulation wreaked on our economy, and make the EPA a campaign issue in 2012.

The attack is coming. The President should not wait for it.

Surely, President will continue stressing his support for green jobs. He already previewed his theme for the State of the Union address – facing our “Sputnik Moment” – in a speech last month:

In 1957 … the Soviet Union beat us into space by launching a satellite known as Sputnik. And that was a wake-up call that caused the United States to boost our investment in innovation and education -– particularly in math and science. And as a result, once we put our minds to it, once we got focused, once we got unified, not only did we surpass the Soviets, we developed new American technologies, industries, and jobs.
So 50 years later, our generation’s Sputnik moment is back … we need a commitment to innovation that we haven’t seen since President Kennedy challenged us to go to the moon.

And we’re directing a lot of that research into one of the most promising areas for economic growth and job creation –- and that’s clean energy technology.

I don’t want to see new solar panels or electric cars or advanced batteries manufactured in Europe or in Asia. I want to see them made right here in America, by American businesses and American workers.

It is essential for the President to make this case for green jobs. The public needs to know that the goal of clean energy does not come at the expense of the economy.

But the argument for public investment in green jobs is likely not sufficient to neutralize attacks by conservatives on new regulations.

The President needs to go one step further, and link the reform of our energy regulations to job growth, nurturing new energy markets without decimating old ones in the transition.

He should reject the premise of burdensome “new” rules that harm the economy and remind that we’ve had plenty of rules on the books for decades which have supported dirty energy. Our job now is to modernize our rules so we can both avert a climate crisis and losing our global competitiveness.

Finally, he should employ his new weapon: General Electric CEO Jeffery Immelt.

Immelt, now heading up a new White House economic advisory, is being lauded by the conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce. So it would be even more powerful to have Immelt follow the State of the Union address by reiterating his past remarks that global warming is real, and the right thing to do for American business and job creation is to establish “regulatory certainty” on how we will stop it.

Last year on CNBC, Immelt embraced the President proposal to cap carbon emissions, saying it would be good for business:

I think the science, as a CEO I’m not an environmentalist – just purely as a CEO that has to make a payroll – things like that. The science is compelling, so it’s a question of when and not if there’s going to be something done on carbon. Give us some certainty and let’s go …

… let’s be really honest with each other right now. We have a policy, we just don’t know it. The last 40 coal plants haven’t been permitted in this country. We’re not leading in the core technologies. You know, we’re the worst of all worlds.

So, let’s have the debate, create certainty. The one thing business guys hate is uncertainty. And in energy today, that ought to be the market we stake out to lead, create certainty, to create incentives for small business, big business, wherever you want to and let’s go.

Tuesday’s address will almost certainly be all about the jobs. But it’s important for the President to show how all the other aspects his agenda support the overall objective of job growth, and cut off avenues for conservatives to claim otherwise.

And he has a powerful new tool to help him make that case.

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