Business leaders can rally to these promising policy battles in 2018

Business leaders can rally to these promising policy battles in 2018

Glass slipper in the moonlight
ShutterstockFer Gregory
No amount of magical thinking can shoehorn fossil fuels into a bright, renewable future.

In 2017, federal climate and clean energy policy resembled a bad fairy tale. Like Cinderella's stepmother, aggressively promoting her entitled and greedy daughters over the clearly preferable alternative, the Trump administration sought to sell us on fossil energy as our future.

But like the prince, we know that glass slipper doesn't fit no matter how hard they try to jam it on.

Instead, the truth will out. Cheaper, cleaner, distributed renewable energy (and all the technologies that store, transmit and manage it) are creating too many jobs and saving consumers too much money to buy that fairy tale. The economic fundamentals driving the clean economy are an irresistible force.

Still, we have many policy battles to fight in the coming year to realize the promise of a clean economy. Rather than increasing R&D for new American technologies to address urgent climate and energy issues, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency are abandoning their responsibilities and stifling competition to protect favored incumbent industries. 

Instead of embracing the power of new energy systems to improve our productivity and increase our competitive edge in the global economy, the current administration is engaged in magical thinking to revive coal-fired power. 

But here's a simple fact: Discouraging innovation will not make America great again. America's greatness comes in part from our leadership in science and technology and the resulting products that have defined progress around the globe. It also comes from our ability to envision a different and better world.

The good news is that several federal policy vehicles coming in 2018 offer major opportunities for business leaders to advance the clean economy.

Appropriations

The appropriations process is first up in the new year, during which Congress must come to an agreement on spending for all federal agencies. This is a huge opportunity to defend funding for the market-creating efficiency standards set by DOE as well as the critical R&D funding for innovative technologies under the ARPA-E program.

It's also an opportunity to promote the carbon emission reductions mandated by the Clean Power Plan, which is administered by the EPA but is being systematically dismantled under current EPA leadership. Without this national policy to decarbonize our energy sector, U.S. businesses lose a massive market signal and are at a competitive disadvantage in the multi-trillion dollar global clean energy market.

Infrastructure

No doubt you've heard that an infrastructure bill — to fund energy and transportation upgrades — likely will succeed in garnering bipartisan support. Clean economy business leaders must ensure that adequate storage and transmission for distributed, renewable energy and grid resilience are funded in this bill. On the transportation side, in addition to highway repairs, we must seize this chance to promote efficient transportation technology, including fuel efficiency, smart highways, low carbon fuels, electrification and charging stations for next generation vehicles.

National Defense Authorization Act

But perhaps the two potentially biggest clean-tech policy vehicles are generally the least recognized: the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and the Farm Bill.

The Department of Defense is the one agency of federal government that has shown unwavering leadership on the issues of climate change and the vulnerabilities created by our fossil fuel dependence. The annual NDAA passed this year, as it has for the past several years, with provisions to invest in alternative fuels and renewables for military applications and to address the "threat multiplier" that climate change poses to global geopolitical stability. The military's mission-driven work is also a major driver for cleantech innovation and deserves our support every single year.

Farm Bill

Finally, my favorite is the Farm Bill. Agriculture may represent the single biggest opportunity we have to reduce carbon emissions associated with producing food, fiber and fuel, while removing carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it in the soil. The Farm Bill comes around only once every five years, so this is a critical moment to promote climate-enhancing practices in the ag sector, including:

  • Using precision agriculture to improve the efficiency of fossil-based inputs (including fertilizer, pesticides and fossil-fueled farm equipment use).
  • Incentivizing cultivation practices such as low or no-till and cover-cropping that reduce nutrient runoff and improve crop resilience while building soil carbon. 
  • Expanding renewable energy generation on the farm, a practice that financially rewards farmers and benefits their communities. 

America's stature in the world depends on our ability to lead. Although important progress exists at the state and local levels, our federal government represents us in the global community. In 2018, be sure your legislators are adequately representing you. Step up and tell them that your businesses are benefiting consumers, creating jobs, supporting supply chains all over the country, and building a robust export market for American clean economy products — and that you expect their support. 

The clock has begun ticking on 2018 and it will be midnight again soon enough. This is the year to show our leaders what really fits that glass slipper.

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