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Under the Election-Season Radar, Signs of Bipartisan Support for Clean Energy

I'm not optimistic that our nation's clean-energy future will suddenly turn into the campaign issue that it should be. But looking beyond the November 6th election, I've seen some recent signs that a more bipartisan push for clean-tech growth might be possible.

The first sign came about a month ago when DBL Investors issued a terrific report called Red, White & Green: The True Colors of America’s Clean Tech Jobs. The report’s early September release date and the theme coincided nicely with the launch of my new book Clean Tech Nation, co-authored with Clean Edge co-founder and managing director Ron Pernick, in which we discuss some of the same themes. The jobs report, by DBL managing partner and veteran clean-tech investor Nancy Pfund and Yale MBA candidate Michael Lazar, details the surprising leadership in clean-tech jobs in several politically conservative southern and western states. Since it’s election season, these are better known as red states and swing states. Of the 10 states with the fastest growth in clean-tech jobs from 2003 to 2010, only two (Hawaii and New York) are solid Democratic blue states. All the others are either solid red (Alaska, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming) or swing (Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and North Carolina).

“We all need to understand,” write the report’s authors, “that green jobs and clean tech are not merely the idle dreaming of a small group of partisan activists and insiders, but a source of livelihood for millions of Americans, literally in all parts of the country.” The report also highlights the efforts of five current or former Republican governors to attract and grow clean-tech jobs in their states, most notably Mississippi’s Haley Barbour and Kansas’s Sam Brownback.

This is a point I make in nearly all of my public appearances, particularly to call out the inexcusable stance of the national Republican party (and presidential candidate Mitt Romney) in opposing the extension of the federal production tax credit (PTC) for wind power, which expires at year’s end. Brownback, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin are among the GOP governors who have spoken out in favor of extending the PTC. Last week, Fallin told the newspaper Tulsa World, "I agree with Governor Romney on 99 percent of the issues. But on this one, I've got to do what's best for our state." Bottom line: this is not about ideology, it’s about jobs. And thanks to the insane political fight over the PTC – Congress adjourned last week without taking action – jobs are already disappearing as wind companies announce layoffs due to the PTC uncertainty.

I saw more support for clean tech from an unexpected corner last week when I attended the opening sessions of Climate Week NYC, produced by U.K.-based non-profit The Climate Group, in New York. Timed to coincide with the Clinton Global Initiative annual conference (I was there as well) and the United Nations General Assembly, Climate Week brings together a diverse group of global leaders, including former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, World Bank vice president Rachel Kyte, and Prince Albert II of Monaco. But in this august company I found the most compelling speaker to be Deborah Fikes of Midland, Texas, executive advisor to the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).

I was not familiar with the WEA – it was quite an eye-opener. With roots dating back to 1846, it’s a network of evangelical churches in 129 countries, representing more than 600 million people. “The U.S. is the only country that I work in where climate change is considered ‘controversial’,” said Fikes. The WEA believes it's a moral imperative to reduce carbon emissions with clean energy and efficiency, and Fikes said the group plans to take its message to all four of the national candidates’ debates in the next month, with banners asking Obama, Romney, Biden, and Ryan what they plan to do on the climate issue. Good stuff.

At the end of the week, I was back home in San Francisco and spoke on a clean-energy panel at the Commonwealth Club public affairs forum with Vice Admiral (Ret.) Dennis McGinn, head of the American Council on Renewable Energy, and Renewable Energy Trust CEO John Bohn. Bohn boasts quite a resume, as the former head of Moody’s Investor Services, the Asian Development Bank, and the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. When panel moderator Greg Dalton, founder of the club’s Climate One program, asked us to name the biggest myth about clean energy, Bohn wasted no time.

“I’m a card-carrying Republican,” he said, “and the biggest myth is that Republicans don’t support clean energy!” Poll after poll says that Bohn is correct, and we can see more proof in places ranging from the Oklahoma governor’s office to the banners of evangelicals. As the political season enters full swing and the campaign rhetoric cranks up, let’s be sure to keep that in mind. And even more important, remember it on November 7th.

Lead image: Election podium via Shutterstock

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