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Environment / Sustainability

Former Gov. Bill Ritter, U.S. thought leaders offer President wide-ranging plan for clean energy

January 21, 2014

As the State of the Union Address approaches, the Center for New Energy Economy has presented the White House with 200 ideas for executive action to curb climate change with a clean energy economy.

Bill Ritter presenting 'Powering Forward,' Jan. 21, 2014. Photo by Sam Hurd.In last year’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama told Congress that if it didn’t act on global climate change, he would. Now, with the next State of the Union message coming up next week, a diverse and influential group of leaders from beyond the Beltway has presented Obama with more than 200 ideas on how he can continue acting on that promise.

On Jan. 21, former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, released a report offering scores of ideas on how the administration can move the nation closer to a clean energy economy and reduce America’s carbon emissions over the next three years. The recommendations in “Powering Forward” are all actions that can be taken by the President and executive agencies, using executive powers alone.

The report, which Ritter called a “comprehensive menu of options” for the President, was developed over eight months with the help of more than 100 CEOs, energy experts, academicians and thought leaders who participated in a series of roundtables last year. Ritter emphasized that not all of the participants agreed with all of the ideas, but the report reflects the recommendations that received the strongest support.

“The President has led the nation on clean energy and climate change since he took office, including the initiatives in the climate action plan he announced last June,” Ritter said. “In the face of congressional inaction, the new recommendations are intended to help the administration continue to lead.”

Ritter briefed members of the President’s Cabinet and senior policy staff at the White House earlier in January. Among those who attended were Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz; Interior Secretary Sally Jewell; Deputy EPA Administrator Robert Perciasepe; the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, John Holdren; Dan Tangherlini,  Administrator of the General Services Administration; Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality; and Dan Utech, the President’s top climate advisor.

Ritter was joined by Heather Zichal, the former Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change; energy consultant and former Deputy Energy Secretary Susan Tierney; and Connecticut’s Commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Dan Esty, in releasing the “Powering Forward” report at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

Key Recommendations

Among its many recommendations, "Powering Forward" urges the President and his administration to:

•   Carefully compare the full life-cycle benefits and costs of each energy resource as his national energy policy is implemented. The report points out that additional opportunities exist to distinguish carbon-rich and low-carbon resources consistent with the President’s goals for minimizing the greenhouse gas emissions most responsible for climate change.

•   Direct the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to review and improve how it counts “green jobs” and to resume reporting the number of those jobs in the economy. The BLS suspended its reporting on green jobs last year after it was criticized for its methodology.

•   Direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue clear preliminary guidance to states as early as possible in the regulatory process to encourage early adoption of new energy efficiency and renewable energy measures, and to explain how they will be credited in state implementation plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing fossil-fuel power plants.

•   Direct the Energy Information Administration (EIA) to review and if necessary improve its methods for projecting the growth of renewable energy technologies in years ahead. EIA has been criticized for underestimating renewable energy’s contribution to the nation’s energy mix.

•   Direct federal agencies to work with the nation’s electric utilities and utility regulators to update regulations that are getting in the way of clean energy technologies. Utility executives told CNEE that outdated regulations are making it difficult to accommodate new energy resources and technologies such as wind energy and rooftop solar systems. “As one utility executive put it, today’s new energy technologies are 10 years ahead of utilities in the United States, and utilities are 10 years ahead of regulations,” Ritter said.

•   Request that the IRS use its existing authorities where possible to issue rulings and interpretations of the tax code that increase incentives for private investors to capitalize clean energy technologies. “The idea is not to make the tax system more complex,” Ritter said. “It’s to make it more fair by offering clean energy the same investment tools and tax benefits now given to fossil fuels.”

•   Issue even more aggressive goals for the government’s use of third-party financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements in federal operations. “This financing tool allows the government to have guaranteed savings on its energy bills at no cost to taxpayers,” Ritter said. “It can be used more widely than it’s being used today.”

•   More clearly define the President’s criteria for “responsible” natural gas production and require that oil and gas companies use best available production practices on federal lands.

The CNEE initiative was inspired by President Obama when he met last March with 14 corporate and private sector leaders at the White House, including Ritter. Obama convened the group to hear their advice on energy policy. Following the meeting, Zichal and the other participants asked Ritter, who is known for his clean energy leadership as governor of Colorado, to reach out to experts and leaders across the country.

The complete set of recommendations is available at the CNEE website.

Contact: Maury Dobbie