Energy Ideas Democrats and Republicans Agree On

The former Republican governor of California lays out the case for putting large solar farms in the Mojave desert as part of a serious energy policy based on improving public health, boosting the economy, and avoiding the risks of the fossil economy.


I'm glad The Atlantic is spotlighting this important subject, but let's face it: asking whether large solar power plants are appropriate in the Mojave desert is like wondering whether subways make sense in New York City.

energy_bug_1.pngDuring my seven years as California's governor, we led the nation in protecting the environment at the same time that we were protecting and growing our economy. This was not just talk. We won a legal battle with the federal government that will make cars more fuel efficient in California and the rest of the nation. We enacted laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We established the 25 million-acre Sierra Nevada Conservancy and preserved hundreds of thousands of additional acres up and down our state. But as I said three years ago in a speech at Yale University, if we can't put solar power plants in the Mojave Desert, I don't know where we can put them. In other words, we need to worry less about a few dozen desert tortoises and more about the economic prosperity, security and health of our nation.

President Obama has correctly identified national goals for clean electricity and reduced dependence on foreign oil. Now we need the laws and policies to make them happen.

What we must have -- finally -- is a long-term, comprehensive energy policy that gets America off fossil fuels and makes us energy independent. A policy we stick with regardless of fluctuations in the price of oil or whatever type of energy is in favor at the moment.

But first we have to change the way we talk about and frame the issue.

For too long we have been fighting about greenhouse gases and global warming, about whether the oceans are rising and whether the science can be trusted. All that's gotten us is stuck and polarized. Let's face it, if we haven't convinced the skeptics by now, we aren't going to.

So it is time to move past areas Democrats and Republicans disagree on and focus on issues they see eye to eye on. Issues like economic prosperity, national security and the health and welfare of our people.

For most Americans, the biggest problem facing our nation right now is the economy and jobs. People are worried about the future. About whether their children will live in a nation that falls behind China and other rapidly growing economies.

From my experience in California, it is absolutely clear that a green economy is the way to keep Americans competitive abroad while providing economic growth and jobs at home.

Green jobs are the largest source of employment growth in California, with green tech jobs growing 10 times faster than other sectors over the last five years.

In California, we are building the world's biggest solar plants, the biggest wind farm. That will boost our economy with green jobs and it will protect our environment with clean energy. Democrats and Republicans can all support that kind of progress.

More than a third of the world's clean-tech venture capital flows into our state because investors know California is committed to a clean-energy future. Nations like China and Brazil are just two of the countries making big commitments to green tech. It's time America got into the game.

National security is another area where there is common ground. Democrats and Republicans agree our safety should not be compromised by oil. Turmoil in the Middle East saw a spike in oil prices. When Americans pay more at the pump, that's a tax -- weakening our economy and making our entire nation more vulnerable.

Most Americans agree it's not smart for us to send billions of dollars to hostile nations when we know some of that money winds up with terrorists plotting to attack us.

When President Eisenhower warned about too much dependence on foreign oil more than 50 years ago, our petroleum imports were at 20 percent. Every president since has voiced similar warnings, yet imports now account for more than 60 percent of our oil.

All because America has never had an energy policy or a clear vision of its energy future.

We need a firm policy that spells out our commitment to renewable energy and how to get there. We need policies like those in California that have made our state 40 percent more energy efficient than the rest of the nation. We need a strong policy to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, like California's low carbon fuel standard and our law to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

In my last year of office alone, the state of California approved applications for nearly 6,000 megawatts of solar power, the equivalent of six new coal plants. Construction began on the world's largest wind energy plant. Those projects produce thousands of jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment and renewable energy we don't have to import from hostile oil regimes or burn coal for. Democrats and Republicans can embrace results like that.

Public health is another part of the energy picture where there is common ground. You don't hear much about it in Washington, but we highlighted the issue last fall when we put together a bipartisan coalition to defeat the big oil companies trying to weaken our environmental laws. Uniting environmentalists, venture capitalists, health groups, big and small businesses, unions, farmers, Democrats and Republicans, our campaign won by 22 points.

We have about 100,000 premature deaths in the U.S. each year from petroleum-related air pollution and 6.5 million annual hospital visits by people with respiratory illnesses caused by the same thing.

These deaths are far greater in number than the combined deaths from car accidents, drunk drivers, gang wars, suicides or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We need to talk about this when we are debating where to put clean energy plants and the transmission lines needed to move that energy to our cities, homes and businesses.

I know we must be vigilant when it comes to protecting our environment. But I also look forward to the day when our solar and wind plants in the Mojave and elsewhere are up and running, providing clean, renewable energy to a safer, stronger and more prosperous America.

Image: Associated Press.