National Governors Association on Clean Energy in Tampa

12/13/07 Seán Kinane
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This morning, Republicans in the U.S. Senate blocked an energy bill that would remove billions in government subsidies to the largest oil companies and divert at least a portion of those dollars to the development of renewable energy sources.

Sixty votes were needed to move forward with a vote but only 59 senators voted in favor of the measure. Sen. Bill Nelson voted in support, but Florida’s junior senator Mel Martinez was one of 40 who voted against moving forward.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain was not present for the vote. As a senator who often supports environmental initiatives, his vote would have moved the bill forward.

In an effort to get the energy bill passed, the Senate is currently working on a version that will give more than $21-billion in tax rebates back to the oil companies. The Senate’s energy bill will not include a 15 percent renewable energy standard that was included in the version passed last week by the House. But the Senate version does include a requirement that automakers increase the average miles per gallon.

Today in Tampa, the National Governors Association met to discuss its initiative called "Securing a Clean Energy Future." WMNF’s Seán Kinane was there and he asked Montana’s Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer how the two Democratic senators of his state, Max Baucus and John Tester, voted on the energy bill.

“Oh, absolutely they’re voting for it, they already have voted. They are part of the 59 that voted for this energy bill because it would give incentives to domestically produced energy. It shouldn’t surprise us in Washington, D.C.. where they’ve got 10,000 lobbyists who are paid to make sure that Congress allows their corporation to keep both of their feet and their nose in the trough, are not moving. This money that is pouring into Washington, D.C.. to maintain the status quo of the imported oil economy has got to change.”

One way around the oil economy is to increase the number of hybrid vehicles on the road. The concept vehicle called the Chevrolet Volt is an extended range plug-in hybrid; it was on display outside the National Governors Association meeting. Gov. Charlie Crist said Florida needs more electric hybrids on its roads.

“Absolutely, I mean why wouldn’t it. I want to applaud both GM and Ford for what they’re doing. This Chevrolet, I mean that’s a beautiful car, I wish I could buy one today. It’s great what is happening with automakers and how they’re responding to the need and the desire of consumers. Consumers want to do what’s right; they want to make sure we protect Florida. She’s beautiful and we don’t want to have any more emissions than we absolutely need. And when they develop these kind of technologies that give you the chance to do it right, it’s wonderful.”

The Volt concept car has a 40-mile range on one charge and can recharge using a standard electrical outlet. A small gasoline engine recharges the battery, and a full tank of gas allows the car a range of 640 miles.

One criticism with some types of renewable energies is that they are intermittent. For example, electricity cannot be generated by solar power at night. But if Americans drove electric hybrids, intermittence would be less of a problem, according to Schweitzer.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, D-Kansas, is co-chair of the National Governors Association’s "Securing a Clean Energy Future" initiative. She expects 40-45 of her fellow governors to sign on.

“We’re looking at a clean energy future for America and the initiative with the National Governors Association actually has four components. One is alternative fuels. … Alternative energy for electricity is another focus of the initiative. … The third part of the initiative, which is to look at greenhouse gas emissions, and the fourth piece, is to hopefully accelerate research and development. … With those four focus areas we think we can have a transformational effort across America and really end up at the end of the day with these programs being driven in states across the country.”

At the U.N. Climate Conference in Bali, Al Gore said the U.S. government bears the principal blame for blocking progress on climate talks. Instead, states have taken the lead in clean energy and reducing greenhouse gas pollution.

In July, Crist signed three executive orders addressing global climate change. But the federal government has lagged behind. WMNF asked the chair of the National Governors Association, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minnesota, how the governors could pressure the federal government to do more.

“Our hope is that if we can take action in individual states or regionally or hopefully through the NGA, that that will provide either inspiration or shame -- or both, to the federal government to say that if states can do it and they’ve done it successfully, with not only not wrecking the economy, but hopefully adding to the economy, that will give the federal government further reason to act. So we believe that we can lead by example and that will contribute to the likelihood that they’ll act in the future.”

Pawlenty said there is no single clean energy answer, a range of alternative energies should be considered.

“There’ll be a number of things that will contribute to a cleaner and better energy future and it will depend on the local geography, the local natural resources, the local political culture, and so different things will be applied and used in different states. The menu will certainly include biofuels, biomass, biogas, syngas, solar, wind, clean coal, nuclear, and different people will pick different things from that menu.”

Both Pawlenti and Crist say nuclear will be part of their state’s clean energy future.

“We have nuclear plants here in Florida as you know, and they’ve been run well. And I think all you need to do when you consider the recycling of the waste as Gov. Pawlenty addressed very eloquently or you talk about the safety of running those plants in and of themselves, is look at the examples set for us by the United States Navy. I mean they’re running nuclear subs; they’re running nuclear aircraft carriers.”

Schweitzer of Montana said the cost of solar power is going down even as technology is getting better. He said that generating solar energy from photovoltaic technology (PV) should be more important in the U.S. and in Florida.

“It might surprise you that Germany has 65 percent of all the PV cells in the world. And then when you look at that map again and you say I wonder where in America Germany is like, you’ll find out they have the same radiation levels as Seattle. So of course the Sunshine State can produce energy with solar resources. If they can in Germany, I’m sure you can in Florida.”

Photo credit: Seán Kinane/WMNF

Learn more:

National Governors Association

Securing a Clean Energy Future

Executive Orders on Climate Change

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