Environmentalists, green tech supporters and energy efficiency advocates may rejoice today at the U.S. election results, but the re-election of President Barack Obama doesn’t mean environmental policies to help spur growth in green tech will get any easier.
There is reason for hope, and there are good signs that green tech, energy efficiency and climate change legislation could enjoy broader government support. Obama’s team has also indicated he will push for climate change action. But there are also some harsh realities that haven’t gone away.
End to Partisanship?
Almost $2 billion has been spent on this election campaign—not counting Senate and House of Representative races—and we are back to where we began: A Democratic president and Senate and a Republican House of Representatives. In other words: partisan gridlock.
Will legislation to combat climate change be put back on the table? Will tax credits for energy efficiency upgrades to homes be made available once again? Will meaningful rebates for homes and businesses improving their energy efficiency be re-introduced?
The green movement still faces huge obstacles in Congress, namely money flowing from oil and gas interests that see to it that renewable energy doesn’t compete with its own interests. That is huge. If you have any doubt about this, view PBS’ Frontline documentary, Climate of Doubt, which chronicles the efforts to silence and obstruct any meaningful measures to combat climate change. We’re hopeful these efforts will cease now that a majority of Americans believe in global warmingand that something should be done about it; storms like Hurricane Sandy grow stronger and more frequent in part due to warming seas; and Obama has won a second term. But we don’t hold our breath. Money speaks loudly in Washington. And a lot of it is spent by the oil industry.
The New Campaign
Also remember that the campaign for 2014 mid-term elections effectively began late last night. And that could mean even more gridlock. Jobs, the economy, the fiscal cliff, the deficit, taxes and social policies loom large and relegate what many consider THE most important issue facing humanity to trivial status. We can only hope that this will change and that both parties realize the majority of us now fear global warming and want something done about it.
And while we know Obama supports green tech and a green economy, he hasn’t been its most vocal proponent, often appearing timid even bringing it up. Why? Because it has been made into a political quagmire. You cannot get anything done on it.
Fighting Climate Change Starts at Home—and Your Business
The best chances of legislation may not come from cap and trade and other big climate change initiatives, but from measures to boost energy efficiency that—are you ready for this—enjoy bi-partisan support.
The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2011, introduced by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio and once a favorite to be Mitt Romney’s vice presidential nominee) has made the Congressional rounds and emphasizes increased collaboration between the federal government and industrial sector to enhance energy efficiency. But provisions to boost to efficiency requirements in national building codes and Energy Department loan guarantees to efficiency retrofits have been scrapped.
Federal tax credits for renewable energy systems like solar electrical, solar thermal, geothermal and wind turbines are still available through 2016. Tax credits for appliances like more efficient hot water heaters and air-source heat pumps, in addition to a variety of energy-efficient products like windows and insulation, are no longer available.
What About Homes?
Also left out in this are most homes. A Home Star bill that would reward homeowners with instant rebates of $3,000 or more for energy-efficiency improvements has enjoyed bi-partisan support for several years, but repeatedly was tacked onto failed bills. Republicans and Democrats alike have supported it, but the problem was funding the $6 billion, two-year program. Obama proposed funding it with the approximate $4 billion in tax cuts and subsidies awarded to the oil and gas industries each year. And although the idea is popular with public, you can guess where that has gone.
If any climate change and energy-efficiency legislation is re-visited, it should be a Home Star program that could spur real interest in energy efficiency at the home level and kick-start and industry that could retrofit homes for energy efficiency, feasibly, long after the two-year program runs out.
Revisit Cap and Trade?
Also, be careful what you wish for in climate change legislation. This is still an area where people look for big, silver-bullet solutions. A cap-and-trade law on carbon emissions or another big initiative hyped as combating global warming is likely to convince the public that this is all that’s needed.
Efficiency is the Answer
We have said time and again that the best way to combat global warming and save people money on rising energy costs is energy efficiency, in homes and businesses, including better insulation, windows, building practices, daylight harvesting, LED lights, motion and occupancy sensors, lighting and control systems, programmable and smart thermostats. The list goes on and on.
Educating people about the benefits of such systems is the key, because many people want to be more energy-efficient but don’t know how. We can show them. And do you know what? We really don’t need high-level legislation to do it. We can do this now.