Renewable Energy in the Age of Trump: The Politics of Change — What Now?

The sustainable energy/environment community is far from powerless to combat climate change or those who would deny its occurrence. The Nov. 8 election has created a different dynamic for pursuing the policy priorities of a clean energy economy and a sustainable global environment.

Over the course of this series I will be putting forth ideas of what a nativist clean energy agenda might look like. Before doing so, however, it is important to consider not just who was elected in November but something of the why.

Democrats greatly underestimated the anger of America and the desire for a change. For that matter, mainstream Republicans did as well. Donald Trump did not; and, neither did Senator Sanders.

DJT, XLV was not the only Republican elected in November. A somewhat historic anomaly, in that voters often vote to check and balance change at the top by supporting down ballot opposition candidates.

Looking beyond the White House, the make-up of selected federal, state and local governments in 2017 will be:

  • Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress;
  • Republican governors in 34 states;
  • Republican majorities in 67 of 98 partisan legislative chambers;
  • Republican attorneys general in 24 of the 46 partisan offices; and,
  • Democratic mayors in 67 of the nation’s 100 largest cities.

In addition, 49 states have a natural resources commissioner; 50 have public service commissioners, with oversight of their state’s electric utilities. These commissioners achieve office in a variety of ways, with most appointed by the governor and/or the legislature.

I am not suggesting that every Republican denies the science of climate change any more than I would every Democrat supports renewable energy and energy efficiency. What I am suggesting is to be effective advocates, we must first understand our audience of decision makers, their constituents and the policy positions of their party.

With understanding come clues about the arguments likely to resonate—based on an appreciation of why someone holds the positions they do and what might move them. Much has been learned and lost in this year’s elections.

We learned people on both sides of the political aisle are angry and looking for a new way forward. What was lost was any semblance of civility.

Somewhere along the line we—as a nation—have lost the ability to speak to each other. The result of politics by polemics is entrenched division. The hardening of positons serves only to constrain compromise. Without compromise, democracy doesn’t work as intended.

What we end up with is what we saw the morning of Nov. 9—an angry divided nation. Consider why people voted for Trump. The Washington Post recently published a sample of responses it received asking that very question:

I am an independent voter who leans slightly to the left…a small business owner… not an uneducated deplorable redneck….We in the middle are weary of partisan bickering. Trump was our best hope…to compromise.

I am white…a woman…pro-choice… educated…The government needs to run like a corporation, simple as that.

Friends accused Trump supporters of not loving them because they are gay or a woman…a person of color…an immigrant…My stomach dropped knowing if someone found out…I supported him…and they thought I did not love them for that.

If Bernie Sanders had been on the ballot, I would have voted for him, even though I agree with him on virtually nothing…he seems to be honest and stands up for his beliefs and not for enriching himself.

I voted for Donald Trump because he will deport illegal immigrants more than Clinton. As a legal immigrant who had to wait….

You need not agree with Trump’s supporters—the gods know I don’t. What you must do, however, is to listen to them and consider what motivated them—what will motivate them.

Their message is mixed. It allows for consideration of and ultimately support for environmental regulation and transition to a sustainable energy economy. Mixed messages are common in politics.

Many Republican dominated plaintiff states opposed to the Clean Power Plan (CPP), continue to devise strategies combatting harmful CO2 emissions, including: Arizona, Colorado, Ohio and Louisiana. Before tripping the light fanatical, consider how sustainability might fit within the four corners of their belief structures.

No one is asking you to compromise your core beliefs, neither should you ask anyone else to do so. I am not suggesting either that the community forgo more strident advocacy measures like law suits and ballot initiatives. There is always time to go nuclear.

The art of compromise is based upon commonalities not differences. The benefits of: reducing harmful emissions to human health; creating new employment and investment opportunities through the development and deployment of new technologies, are not difficult to understand.

Neither is it hard to make the business case for: energy efficiency efficient manufacturing practices; greater reliability of distributed renewable energy systems; or building retrofits that reduce monthly utility bills. Just the other day a syndicated new story carried by newspapers from Albany to Albuquerque told of the 365 major corporations, e.g., Unilever, General Mills and Patagonia, urging Trump to support the Paris Agreement.

The open letter said in part:

Elections change our leadership but they don’t change reality….

Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk…

…implementing the Paris Agreement will enable and encourage businesses and investors to turn the billions of dollars in existing low-carbon investments into the trillions of dollars the world needs to bring clean energy and prosperity to all.

If health and the economy were not enough of an argument, there is the matter of national security. Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has called climate change a future trend that will affect U.S. national security and how the military executes its missions, including being increasingly called upon to respond to natural disasters.

Hagel, a Republican who served 12 years in the U.S. senate and received a lifetime rating of 84 percent from the American Conservative Union, is not the lone DOD voice. John Conger, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense has said:

There are plenty of things we can do to mitigate the risk, but in order to mitigate risk, you have to recognize that it exists.

Even Bill O’Reilly—who’s show on Feed Our Xenophobia is a mainstay of the right—called just last week on President-elect Trump to keep us in the Paris Climate Agreement. OK, so he did so out of political expediency—but that is my point. There are a lot of reasons for Republicans to support clean energy and lower GHG emissions.

I really don’t care if he wouldn’t let me date his daughter. If I can earn his support, I know there is hope.

Next time, I will begin talking specifics of the nativist agenda. In the meantime, I wish all of you a pleasant Thanksgiving. There is still a lot to be thankful for.

This article was originally published by and was republished with permission.

Read more in this series:

What Now? A Way Forward for the Clean Energy Community

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Joel Stronberg, Esq., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC. He writes about energy and politics in his blog Civil Notion ( ). Joel recently returned to private practice after serving as the Executive Director of the Biomass Thermal Energy Council.  He has worked extensively in the clean energy fields for public and private sector clients at all levels of government and in Latin America. His specialties include: resiliency; distributed generation and storage; utility regulation; financing mechanisms; and, sustainable agriculture; and human behavior. He has recently taken on the duties of managing partner for LAC Solar Light, Inc. a B-type corporation working in the Americas. Joel can be contacted at .

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