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March 15, 2013

Racing to the Top of the Clean Energy Leaderboard

Solar panel installation lowHow do you create good paying American jobs, solve the climate crisis, and renew America's leadership in science and innovation?

A bill that Colorado Senator Michael Bennet introduced today could help accomplish all three of these goals.
 
This bill, titled the "Clean Energy Race to the Top" Act, would establish a $5 billion competitive grant program for states and local governments that enact policies to move the clean energy economy forward.
 
Here is how it works: Under the bill, state and local governments can apply for competitive grants to develop and implement clean-energy and carbon-reduction measures. Some ideas for possible proposals include renewable-electricity standards, regional or statewide climate action plans, increasing the percentage of energy-efficient public buildings, participation in a regional greenhouse-gas reduction program, or tax incentives for the manufacture or installation of clean-energy components or energy-efficiency upgrades.
 
Five billion dollars, or about one-tenth of one percent of federal spending, might not sound like much, but the effects would be truly significant.

Take, for example, job creation. This bill would create important new clean energy markets, which in turn would create new American jobs. At a time when our industrial and manufacturing sectors are fading in the face of global competition, clean-energy investments would help rebuild these important sectors. In fact, roughly 26 percent of all "clean economy" jobs are in manufacturing establishments (PDF), compared with nine percent in the economy overall.

Meanwhile, because we have no national energy policy, we have to look to the states and our local businesses and governments to continue leading the way on climate and energy. Already, 28 states and Washington, D.C., have renewable electricity standards. These standards require electric utilities to gradually increase the amount of clean, renewable energy sources -- such as wind, solar, and bioenergy -- in their power supplies. While state leadership has already begun stimulating these new clean energy markets, this bill would build upon the current progress.
 
Finally, the U.S. is losing in the global clean-energy economy battle, and this bill would help us catch up to the rest of the world. The global market for clean energy is estimated to be worth between $1.7 to $2.3 trillion over the next decade. China is now the global leader in wind and solar. India continues to emerge as a premier clean energy market, growing investments to $10.2 billion in 2011, a 54 percent increase.

Countries like Germany, South Korea, and Japan have quickly increased their investment in clean energy innovation since 2009 in an effort to become global leaders in the industry. But stagnant U.S. research budgets and looming budget cuts are sending us to the dark ages. They are providing an opening for other countries to capture the global clean energy innovation advantage that America is letting slip out of its grasp.
 
With looming budget negotiations in D..C and the effects of climate disruption becoming increasingly apparent around the country, this bill is a necessary one. We are missing out on our fair share of the clean energy economy, but with leadership from Congress and smart renewable energy investments, we can ensure our cities and states lead the way in clean energy.

-- Radha Adhar, Sierra Club Associate Washington Representative

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