Democrat and Republican governors unite to call for US wind and solar boost

Source: By James Murray, Business Green • Posted: Thursday, February 16, 2017

Democrat and Republican governors unite to call for US wind and solar boost

Letter to President Trump from 20 states argues support for renewable energy can ‘strengthen America’s energy future’

Trump’s environmental agenda is facing conflicting pressures, with calls from state governors for a rethink of clean energy policy and renewed support from US Republican grandees to implement a nationwide carbon tax clashing with pressure from US automakers to review President Obama’s fuel efficiency standards.

The new President has been hit by a wave of fresh calls for him to reconsider his previous hostility towards renewable energy technologies and climate policies, but this time the plea is coming not from green campaigners or clean tech firms, but some of his own Republican colleagues.

The Governor’s Wind & Solar Coalition, a bipartisan group of governors from 20 US states, wrote to President Trump yesterday to call for renewed support for renewable energy projects across the country.

Specifically, the group argued the new administration should step up funding to upgrade grids and support clean energy research and development, back the development of a new wave of offshore wind farms, and streamline permitting processes for wind and solar projects.

The letter is signed by Kansas Republican Sam Brownback and Rhode Island Democrat Gina Raimondo, on behalf of the group of eight Republican and 12 Democrat governors.

“The Coalition’s 20 member-states are home to hundreds of wind and solar energy facilities that employ hundreds of thousands of Americans and contribute significantly to each state’s economy, and the nation’s at large,” the letter states. “The growth of the renewable energy industry is an American success story built on federal research and development, state policy leadership, private sector investment, and ingenuity.”

It also notes that wind and solar projects are helping many of the communities Trump vowed to support during his election campaign.

“The nation’s wind and solar energy resources are transforming low-income rural areas in ways not seen since the passage of the Homestead Act over 150 years ago,” the letter claims. “For example, US wind facilities pay rural landowners $222m a year, with more than $156m going to landowners in areas with below-average incomes. In addition, $100bn has been invested by companies in low-income counties, where some 70 per cent of the nation’s wind farms are located. Last year, the country’s solar industry employed over 200,000 and added 31,000 new jobs. Most of the installations are in rural areas and have provided landowners another income option.”

The move follows calls last week by a group of influential GOP veterans, including former Treasury Secretaries under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W Bush, for Trump to introduce a nationwide carbon tax to address climate risks.

The proposal is for a revenue-neutral carbon tax starting at $40 per ton, with revenue collected at the source (such as an oil refinery) and then built into the price of products made from that material.

Money generated from the tax would be returned to taxpayers via dividend cheques, with the GOP coalition claiming a family of four would recieve about $2,000 per year from the start of the scheme – money that could help people adjust to higher energy prices or even fund green home improvement actions.

Over 600 leading businesses also wrote to the new administration last month, urging it to honour US commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change and continue to support investment in low carbon infrastructure.

However, Trump is yet to make any major statements on climate change or clean energy since taking office, beyond the publication of a new energy plan on the White House website that promises to step up support for fossil fuels, makes no mention of renewables, and vows to axe President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

Meanwhile, hopes the business community as a whole would seek to protect Obama-era environmental protections received a blow last week when it emerged leading US automakers have called on President Trump to review fuel efficiency standards for 2025.

The industry had supported existing vehicle emissions standards which have helped deliver a significant improvement in the fuel efficiency of the US fleet. But automakers have long harboured concerns that demanding new targets for the mid-2020s would place restrictions on SUVs and other large vehicles.

Reuters reported that a letter sent to the White House on Friday from the chief executives of 18 automakers calls on the President to re-open a review of the fuel efficiency standards for the period from 2022 to 2025 that had been closed by the Obama administration just before it left office.

The letter calls for the review to be re-opened “without prejudging the outcome” and speaking to Reuters Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, appeared to downplay the significance of the proposed move, saying automakers are “seeking a restoration of the process – that’s all. This is a reset.”

However, the letter suggests the automakers would like to see a watering down of standards that have been widely praised by environmental groups for driving investment in greener vehicle technologies.  The letter warns the rules as they stand could “threaten future production levels, putting hundreds of thousands and perhaps as many as a million jobs at risk.”

Meeting with auto industry bosses last month Trump said environmentalism was “out of control” and he would look to roll back the regulations faced by car makers.

Trump’s silence on his environment and energy policy may be perceived as an unwelcome opportunity for high-carbon lobbying efforts to step up a gear. But the growing number of bipartisan calls for action to encourage low-carbon growth may prove to be a political pressure point Trump is unable to ignore for much longer.