America 2021: What Next on Climate?
The effort to address climate change stumbled with the failure to pass cap-and-trade. What should happen now? Five experts discuss the future of U.S. climate and energy policy.
Aldy: I am actually optimistic that things can be better. There’s clearly enough appetite in the general public, and on both sides of the political aisle, to make progress. The question we have to grapple with is: How can we actually find a way to unify interests enough to make it happen? To the extent that we failed to do so in legislation, or in the federal government, I’m actually optimistic that a lot of the states will continue to move forward. It’s fascinating that we were just talking about a CES, and we’re talking about support for renewables—and there are 30 states out there that have renewable standards. Blue states, red states: We see that there is clearly an appetite for trying to move forward on clean energy. If Washington’s not going to lead, a lot of the states will continue to push in that direction.
Arroyo: On that point, since I spend most of my time working with the states, California is ramping up its renewable standard to 33 percent by 2020. But the big caveat is, even in this atmosphere in which there isn’t a federal alternative, there are pending proposals that would pre-empt state activity, and I do worry that we might get a moderate federal clean energy standard that might preempt states from going further. Typically, the federal standards are floors that the states can go beyond. But if you look at some of the legislation that’s pending right now, it really will undercut some of the state leadership.
Laskey: There is no question that there has to be progress, and if the federal government doesn’t lead, it will come from the states. It will happen from the states up, and hopefully also happen from the federal government down. There’s too much momentum. I mentioned Arkansas earlier, where there’s now an energy efficiency standard. Some of the biggest standards exist in red states, so it’s only a matter of time before Republicans come on board with this. The Cameron government in Great Britain is conservative, and it is embracing energy innovation as a way to spur the economy. The government in China is not exactly progressive either, and it is beginning to see the economic benefits of investing heavily in clean energy.
We do have to create a burning platform here. This can’t be about energy independence and security alone, and it can’t be about public health alone, and it can’t be about the economy alone. These are all symptoms of a fundamental problem. It was Al Gore who said, “The Earth has a fever.” There’s a real fundamental problem, and we have to make those 14 percent feel empowered and connected, and grow that 14 percent to 25 percent.
Shultz: Am I optimistic about 2021? I would say I am optimistic because I don’t think I could function if I weren’t. There will be a couple of political swings by 2021, from conservative to progressive and beyond, and hopefully that will make a difference. I am hopeful that the swing will make it so that some of our forecasts here about Republicans being in the right place, or at least less in the wrong place, will actually come about. They’ll recognize that it’s much better for them to be creating jobs and be optimistic about America, rather than running away from everything, whether it’s innovation, solutions, jobs, or science.
Joe Aldy is an assistant professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and a nonresident fellow at Resources for the Future. In 2009-2010, he served as the Special Assistant to the President for Energy and Environment at the White House.
Vicki Arroyo is executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center and visiting professor at Georgetown Law.
Alex Laskey is the president and founder of OPOWER, an energy efficiency software company that helps utilities meet their efficiency goals.
Manik Roy is the vice president of federal government outreach for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, where he manages communication between the Center and Congress.
Lexi Shultz is the legislative director for climate and energy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Bryan Walsh covers energy and the environment for Time magazine.
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