In the face of flight and train cancellations and warnings of a total shut down of the eastern seaboard, I recently joined eight other clean tech leaders to fight my way into Washington. We arrived at a moment when federal carbon and clean energy policy is hanging in the balance and brought the message that a cap and price on carbon is a critical part of our economic stimulus package. 

The bad weather brought us a silver lining: the storm provided a pause in Capitol Hill schedules that left us virtually the only non-government people on Capitol Hill.  As a result we were able to conduct extended meetings throughout the blizzard with key players on carbon policy.  Even Senators with whom we did not have prior appointments agreed to meet with us, if for no other reason than that they couldn’t believe we were there!

Our delegation from Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) included a spectrum of businesses, both in and outside of the clean technology industry: large and distributed scale renewable energy project builders, energy storage technology companies, biofuels companies, energy efficiency retrofitting contractors, cleantech investors, and executives of other companies in key states that are impacted by the emerging clean energy economy. Together, our delegation is engaged in business activities in 37 states and multiple countries. 

In other words, we brought support for carbon policy from a broad base of American businesses poised for growth. And we reaffirmed that a cap and price on carbon are essential to create American jobs, grow our economy and spur the innovations and products that will keep the U.S. competitive in the global economy.

Our message to everyone that we met in the Capitol was straightforward:  Whatever the mechanism, the growth and vigor of the American economy depend on our making a national commitment to a clean low-carbon energy future.

While key Senators have continued to focus on a climate and clean energy bill, Senate leadership has made it clear that the priorities are a jobs bill and a healthcare bill.  We made a strong argument that carbon policy would be a highly effective component of a jobs bill and engaged Senators and key staff in topics ranging from protecting American manufacturing jobs, to whether China would engage adequately on carbon emission reductions, to interest in bringing new low carbon jobs to states with high unemployment.

Time is of the essence if we’re going to get a carbon bill passed this year.  E2 plans plan to keep up the pressure on Congress not to turn its back on carbon policy because of the current contentious political atmosphere, or because of an inability to agree on the economic mechanism for achieving emission reductions.

Our strongest argument -- and one that we are uniquely qualified to deliver -- is that the best way forward to an economic recovery, job creation and an improved balance of trade is a national commitment to a low carbon clean energy future.  Our greatest leverage for a comprehensive climate and clean energy bill is the fact that low carbon jobs are beginning to appear in states all across the country, creating a “bubble up” demand for action from Congress.

We’re already planning our next trip to Washington and looking for businesses that are based in (or who have expansion plans or supply chain relationships) in the following states: Massachusetts, Virginia, Maine, Montana, Tennessee, Louisiana and Michigan.  

Without a comprehensive policy to promote clean technologies, we put America’s innovators and entrepreneurs at a disadvantage. A carbon cap program will send a clear price signal, spurring major investment in energy efficient and low-carbon technologies, fostering innovation and upgrades, creating jobs and lowering our dependence on foreign energy sources.

Our competitors in the global economy, including China, India, Spain, and Germany have committed unequivocally to increasing their leadership in clean energy. We are rapidly losing market share domestically and internationally in renewable energy technologies that were first developed in the U.S. with American research dollars.

 For example, China is already the world’s leading manufacturer of solar panels and wind turbines, with plans by their government to spend half a trillion dollars over the next ten years on renewable energy.

Five years ago, E2 campaigned to “level the playing field” among domestic energy sources within the U.S. It has swiftly become clear that we must now enact policies to level the playing field for American energy products in the global economy.

To do this the U.S. must place a price on carbon as a critical market signal to our nation’s entrepreneurs. This must be done through comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation. Otherwise, we will soon find ourselves as dependent on foreign clean energy products as we are now on foreign oil.

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