Five Words for 2008: “Wait for the Next Administration”

I’m not an overtly political person. While I appreciate the power that policymakers and politicians wield, and how they can impart both positive and negative change, I tend to look at the range of forces that influence our daily lives and businesses. Indeed, very little happens in a vacuum — and it’s the interplay of capital, policy, social movements and technology that drives most markets.

In other words, you usually need to pull a number of levers to exert real, lasting change.

Still, the past seven years have been difficult for me as a U.S. citizen and business entrepreneur, hoping that my nation’s Federal leadership would take an active role in climate policy and clean-tech development — and realizing that the current White House administration would block most any effort at real progress. Of course, I’ve been happy about many of the clean-energy developments taking place at the local and state level that have fueled clean-tech growth, but I’ve never fully gotten over President George W. Bush’s lost opportunity to show true global leadership.

Over the years I held out hope that President Bush, who as governor of Texas helped start that state on its path to wind power dominance in the U.S., might take a similar approach in the White House. But that was a wild, and not really expected, wish. I prayed over the past couple years that Bush might finally embrace the words of New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, when he wrote “Green is the New Red, White, and Blue” — and salvage his legacy. But that hasn’t happened and I don’t expect it will.

I held out hope when Bush finally embraced a renewable fuel standard that we might get leadership in renewable power, climate change and other pressing clean-tech issues. But I’ve resigned myself not to expect so much from a former oil man whose vice president once intimated that “conservation was for sissies.”

The President did sign an Energy Bill in mid-December that will increase auto and light truck fuel-efficiency standards by 40 percent by 2020 (the first mandated increase in more than 30 years), calls for 36 billion gallons of biofuels (a majority from non-corn feedstocks) by 2022 and has a host of very positive measures that will impact the efficiency of lighting, appliances and buildings.

After seven years of inaction and polarization these developments are something to be ecstatic about. But critical components of the energy bill were stripped out by Bush and his allies. The president and many of his Republican cohorts in the Senate blocked anything of note around renewable power generation. Then, on the same day the president signed the Energy Bill, Bush-appointed EPA administrator Stephen Johnson blocked the landmark effort by California and at least 16 others states to regulate auto tailpipe emissions.

Let’s look at what got pulled out of the original Energy Bill passed by the House:

  • A national renewable energy standard calling for 15 percent renewables from solar, wind, and other clean electrical generation sources – GONE!

  • A shift of tax breaks from big oil to emerging, job-growth-oriented clean-tech companies – GONE!

  • An extension and increase in renewable energy production tax credits which have helped fuel this nation’s clean-energy development – GONE!

  • U.S. federal support and adoption of the Kyoto Protocol or next-stage carbon mandates – NOT EVEN ON THE TABLE!

In 2008 we’ll hopefully see some of these key elements restored or passed — but at this point I’ve finally given up on this administration in terms of delivering on a comprehensive, 21st century, jobs-creating, national energy program.

I’d love to be wrong. Nothing would make me happier than for people to point to this column in the coming months and tell me just how miserably wrong I’d gotten it. That President Bush won’t thwart or veto legislation being forwarded by the Democratic majority. But I just don’t believe it’s going to happen.

So, when it comes to a strong, comprehensive, national clean-energy policy (including renewable electricity generation and carbon policy) my five words of advice for the coming year are: “Wait for the Next Administration.”

Fortunately, as Clint Wilder and I point out in our book, The Clean Tech Revolution, not all has been wasted since the beginning of this decade. So much has been happening around the nation outside the influence of Washington that the country still wields influence in clean-energy markets now valued at more than $100 billion globally. Forward-thinking states, cities, business leaders and individuals offer inspiration and cause for celebration.

One need look no further than one’s neighbors who are buying Priuses, installing high-efficiency double-paned windows, and putting solar panels on their roofs. Or bi-partisan leaders like California’s Republican Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Since his election in 2003, “The Governator” has helped enact some of the nation’s most progressive clean-energy policies, including GHG emission reduction targets, tailgate emission regulations for vehicles, a nation-leading renewable portfolio standard and the million solar roofs initiative. Or one need look no further than to the more than 500 U.S. cities that have signed onto the Kyoto protocol irrespective of national policy.

And then there are business leaders like Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page who have set up a philanthropic arm to advance new transportation development and renewable energy sources, and pledged tens of millions in R&D and investment dollars to make utility-scale renewables cheaper than coal.

With all the positive stream of news and developments, it has still been hard to witness a White House that has been mired in inaction and outright opposition to one of the most critical policy imperatives of our time: generating jobs, ensuring economic competitiveness and addressing the serious issues of natural resource constraints, volatile supplies of foreign fossil fuels, and climate change with aggressive and innovative clean-energy policies.

So, while there’s positive news in the recent energy bill passed by Congress and signed by the president — and in actions large and small by a range of stakeholders — I pray that the American people elect a new president in November that shows clear leadership and that can restore American clean-tech leadership on a global scale. It should be one of the top requirements for anyone that wants the job.

As they say in politics: It’s going to be an interesting year.

Ron Pernick is co-founder and principal of Clean Edge, Inc., coauthor of The Clean Tech Revolution, and adjunct faculty at Portland State University.

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Ron Pernick, co-founder and managing director of Clean Edge, Inc. (www.cleanedge.com) and co-author of Clean Tech Nation and The Clean Tech Revolution, is an accomplished market research, publishing, and business development entrepreneur with three decades of high-tech experience. At Clean Edge he has co-authored dozens of reports on emerging clean technologies, built the firm’s stock index and leadership index services, and worked with a range of clients including multinationals, start-ups, government agencies, and investors. Follow Clean Edge on Twitter @CleanEdgeInc.

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