The president’s missed opportunity for bipartisan consensus on the environment

James Dozier President, Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions
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On Tuesday, President Obama made energy and the preservation of our climate an important part of his State of the Union address.  As the head of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions — a grassroots non-profit dedicated to helping establish an environmentally sensible energy plan for our country — you might expect me to be thrilled about this fact. You would be wrong.

We thank President Obama for spotlighting American energy independence and the importance of addressing climate change in the State of the Union, but we are disappointed that the president has chosen to use these issues as election year political footballs, rather than doing the hard work of sitting down with Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate and finding a way to move forward.

For far too long the issue of energy and the environment has become a deeply divisive and partisan issue. President Obama’s decision to circumvent Congress and use his executive authority to establish federal policy in this area will only serve to make the issue more divisive, more partisan, more radioactive, and ultimately serve to put action on the issue even more out of reach.

Perhaps the president should have taken a page out of President Reagan’s third State of the Union Address – delivered 30 years ago.  In that speech, President Reagan fought back against the notion that the responsibility of protecting the environment belonged to one political party when he said, “preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, it’s common sense.”

While the President and some Democratic-leaning interest groups would have you believe that executive action is the only way to protect our air and water, this is simply not the truth. There are glimmers of progress from Republicans and Democrats in both chambers who have proposed modest steps towards renewable energy development and conservation — legislation that provides opportunities to bridge the divide between the president and Congress.

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) have introduced the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act that uses a variety of low-cost tools to reduce barriers for private sector energy users and drive adoption of off-the-shelf efficiency technologies that will save businesses and consumers money, make America more energy independent, and reduce emissions. Efficiency technologies are commercially available today, can be widely deployed in every state in the nation, and pay for themselves through energy savings relatively quickly.

Representative Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Representative Peter Welch (D-VT) have introduced the Energy Savings Through Public-Private Partnerships Act that would save taxpayer dollars without additional appropriations by encouraging federal agencies to enter into energy savings performance contracts and utility energy service contracts. Under these contracts, an energy service company negotiates a contract with a federal agency that specifies the amount of energy savings it will achieve through retrofits and other measures. The company is then paid for its performance out of the savings it achieves rather than through appropriated funds.

Representatives Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Joe Heck (R-NV), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Mike Thompson (D-CA) have introduced the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act. This legislation will streamline permitting for renewable energy projects on public lands. By removing such bureaucratic hurdles we can expand our use of renewable energy and reduce our reliance on foreign oil, and create critically needed job opportunities.

These are common sense, conservative proposals that encourage market-driven investments in clean energy and promote smart research and incentives. And, as conservatives we can do more. We must remain committed to a national energy strategy that seriously addresses our energy security, provides certainty for the economy, protects our climate for future generations, and ensures all energy sources compete in an open market free from government interference.

Indeed, over the weekend, The New York Times featured an article about the growing support for renewable energy among conservative legislators, organizations and interest groups. The article even talked about the rise of so-called “Green Tea” coalitions — partnerships between Tea Partiers and pro-environmental groups.

If Tea Party groups and environmental groups can find a way to work together, then certainly the President of the United States can find a way to work with members of the House and Senate to do the right thing.