Congress: Start the energy revolution without me

Congress has considered some big plans for energy since Obama took office:  carbon cap and trade, renewable and energy efficiency standards, cash for caulkers. But at this point it looks unlikely Congress will make any major policy changes this year; next year doesn’t look so good either.

But maybe it doesn’t matter.

The energy revolution is already underway in the US, led by states and fueled by entrepreneurs, advocates, and forward thinkers.


Here is some evidence of what’s happening in the states, even without new federal laws. The Presidential Climate Action Project (PCAP), a foundation-funded organization of Natural Capitalism Solutions in Boulder, Colorado, issued a report August 5 that notes:

  • More than 30 states representing two-thirds of the US population have their own climate action plans or are developing them
  • A similar number have renewable energy portfolio standards
  • Three regional cap-and-trade systems are underway or being developed
  • States have created their own appliance efficiency standards, vehicle efficiency standards and fuel standards
  • Twenty-three key state policies could influence 90% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Center for Climate Strategies

It appears the US is developing a defacto national energy policy without Congress. PCAP is taking this idea a step further; it recently issued a list of five energy actions Obama has the authority to pursue without Congress.

The first on the list calls for Obama to work with the states and local governments to create a national roadmap to the clean energy economy, a project that is likely to be more about connecting the dots than drawing new highways. The proposal includes seeking new “energy transition partnerships” between state, local and federal agencies. It also includes defending state and local powers against preemption by Congress, except when a uniform national policy is clearly in the national interest.

“At the top of our list is a full partnership between all levels of government in the United States to build the clean energy economy,” said Terry Tamminen, former secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency and special advisor to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “The Senate has debated whether to preempt some of the states’ power to deal with climate change. Instead, the federal government should help states expand the leadership they have shown for more than a decade.

PCAP also calls on Obama to declare a war on energy waste, reinvent national transportation policy, eliminate fossil energy subsidies that are under his control and restore ecosystems as a climate action strategy.

The group is hoping Obama will adopt the recommendations in preparation for November’s international negotiations on a global climate treaty in Cancún, Mexico. He may arrive without a mandate from Congress, but the states appear to be speaking loud and clear.

The full report is available here:

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Elisa Wood is a long-time energy writer whose work appears in many of the industry's top magazines and newsletters, among them Renewable Energy World and Platts. She serves as chief editor of Her work has been picked up by the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal online, Utne, USA Today and several other sites. She is author of the report "Think Microgrid: A Guide for Policymakers, Regulators and End Users." See more of her work at

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