Western Governors to Obama: Invest Billions in Clean Energy

“When I am president,” President-elect Barack Obama said in a videogram sent to a participants of a climate change summit organized by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last week, “any governor who is willing to promote clean energy will have an ally in the White House.” And it was just one of several pledges he made. Governors from Western states have now issued a four-page letter to Obama calling for long-term commitment to clean energy in the U.S. While it is not a direct reply to Obama’s video (drafts have been in the works since June, according to Western Governors’ Association spokesperson Karen Deike), the letter amounts to a collective “Yes We’re Willing” from the states’ leadership.

Sent last week, this message came as global leaders made final preparations for another set of climate change talks, known as COP-14, that kicked off today in Poland. As the first international conference on the issue since the election, COP-14 represents a re-entry for the U.S. into global climate change talks largely neglected since the country walked away from the Kyoto Protocol.

Signed by leaders of the Western Governors’ Association, which represents governors from 19 states (including Alaska, of “Drill Baby Drill” fame), plus Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands, the letter includes calls for tens of billions of dollars in annual investment in clean energy and vehicle technologies, assistance for industries transitioning to renewable fuels and more efficient technologies, and rewards for utilities that reduce customers’ energy usage.

The governors’ vision extends beyond public funding for cleantech. The group also suggests making “maximum use” of market-based mechanisms for slashing emissions, and encouraging (though not requiring) the private sector to invest at least as much as the federal government into energy technologies. The governors don’t specify a regulatory scheme for carbon emissions, but they are clear on how revenue from something like a carbon tax should be spent. “Revenue raised should support the energy policy principles in this letter,” the governors write, “and not be used as a means of sustaining or expanding general governmental operations.”

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal industry group, has announced support for the governors’ stance — or a skewed version of it, at least: Instead of renewable fuels, the coalition suggests the governors have come out swinging for so-called “clean coal” technology.

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