Next Step? A Clean Energy Jobs Race to the Top

Empowering states to capture clean energy opportunity

I know I’m not alone in feeling growing anxiety about the changes to the natural world I’ve seen in my lifetime, or in my rising concern as I flip through the newspaper and think that America could be left behind in the accelerating race to a clean energy global economy. But I’ve also seen vivid proof that America can turn action on climate change into American jobs.

For all these reasons, and like millions of Americans, I was relieved and moved to hear President Obama commit to “respond to the threat of climate change” in his second inaugural address and to do so to preserve both America’s unique natural heritage, and our economic promise for our children.

In a  statement on Inauguration Day, NWF saw renewed hope for a secure climate future and underscored the broad public support to confront the urgent climate challenges that face all Americans.

Gov. Granholm at the Department of Energy Saturday.  Photo:  DOE
Whats more, a call to action on climate change isn’t just inspiring rhetoric. As I’ll discuss in more detail in my next piece, Americans took serious actions in 2012 that cut carbon pollution deeply (including some we may not even realize), and many new opportunities exist for a made-for-America response to climate change.

But for starters, here’s a hot-off-the-presses proposal that gives citizens of every state something to chew on (and a stake in the clean energy economy):

At an Inauguration weekend event at the Department of Energy,  I was happy to get a chance to hear former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm outline Clean Energy Jobs Race to the Top that would spur states and regions to take advantage of their unique strengths to build in-state jobs and forge state and national energy leadership.

Here’s how it would work

One example of what responding to climate change looks like today. Building more fuel efficient cars and trucks in Kentucky. Photo: Sam Varnhagen, Ford Motor Co.
Modeled on the successful Education Race to the Top, the federal government would provide a $4.5 billion pool of competitive funds to grow clean energy innovation, deployment and jobs. To opt-in to this voluntary initiative and compete for these funds, states would need to adopt effective clean energy standards. Building on that sound policy foundation, states would get bonus points for:

  • Targeting industry clusters and opportunities for competitive advantage;
  • Strong business and education partnerships;
  • Approaches that spur supply and demand for new energy and technology;
  • Partnering regionally; and
  • More jobs created

How big is the upside to state action? Big. Take a look at these recent reports that outline the state-by-state and region-by-region benefits of deploying offshore windproduction, or modernizing our electric grid, building advanced vehicles, developing solar power or restoring the Gulf.

Full video of the DOE inaugural event is here, and provides a plenty to spur discussion of the specifics of  the Clean Energy Jobs Race to the Top  and other promising ways to meet our climate and energy challenges.  But whether you care most about jobs and  manufacturing, healthy families and communities, education and innovation, or wildlife and our natural heritage, there’s no doubt that states — in partnership with communities and the federal government — have a powerful opportunity to lead the way into a prosperous clean energy and climate smart future.

Ask your elected leaders and local organizations what they’re doing to respond to climate change and bring clean energy jobs to your neighborhood. You can make an #energypledge about what you plan to do to respond to climate change or meet our energy challenges, or a #GreenWish about what you’d like to see for the environment, wildlife, climate or energy in the year to come.