Clean-energy company executives and investors met with White House officials today to make their case for a federal cap on emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.
"We have come here this morning with one particular request, and that is that we pass comprehensive climate change and energy policy legislation this year," said Entergy Corp. CEO Wayne Leonard, who was one of more than 100 U.S. executives who met with Obama administration officials at the White House. "We want to get America back in the business of exporting technology instead of dollars."
Diplomats will attempt to broker a successor to the Kyoto Protocol at U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen in December. The internationally binding emissions cap expires in 2012, just as the United States would begin curbing its greenhouse gas emissions under proposed legislation in Congress.
By signing the comprehensive climate and energy legislation in coming months, President Obama would help pressure China, India and other developing countries to agree to binding emissions reductions, the executives contend. Obama would also send a clear signal to U.S. clean-energy companies and investors to make long-term investments and create domestic jobs.
"This is not about politics; this is about people and jobs," said Dave Vieau, CEO of A123Systems Inc., a Watertown, Mass.-based maker of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles. "Anyone here who runs a business, and many of you do, knows that if you're going to make effective long-term plans, you've got to understand the rules of the game.
"It's important that we have a national energy policy that adds clarity and definition to the longer-term prospects of a clean-energy economy," Vieau added.
The investor coalition Ceres and the Clean Economy Network organized this week's fly-in of executives from more than 100 companies, representing sectors as diverse as renewable energy, information technology and athletic apparel.
The business leaders met today with Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), whose support is crucial to passing the emissions cap-and-trade bill introduced last week by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
This morning, the executives met with Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy Director Carol Browner.
Speaking at an energy conference in Washington last week, Browner warned that it is "not likely" Congress would be able to send a climate and energy bill to Obama's desk before the U.N. climate negotiations in Copenhagen.
Browner sounded slightly more optimistic today.
"Whether or not [legislation] could be completely done by the time we go to Copenhagen for international negotiations ... is an open question," she told the executives. "We're certainly going to do everything we can to move it down the path."
The Kerry-Boxer bill calls for a 20 percent reduction of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2020; the House-passed bill (H.R. 2454) calls for a 17 percent reduction by 2020. Both bills call for long-term emissions reductions of 42 percent by 2030 and 83 percent by 2050.
Chu warned that if Congress fails to pass climate and energy legislation soon, the United States runs the risk of falling behind China as a global leader in producing wind turbines, photovoltaic panels and other clean-energy technologies. China invests some $12.6 million in clean energy every hour, he claimed, and the nation aims to generate 100 gigawatts from wind turbines by 2030.
"The cost of not doing something is we will lose the chance to lead in this next Industrial Revolution," Chu warned.
He used the occasion to announce that the Energy Department will provide up to $750 million from the stimulus law to accelerate the development of conventional renewable energy generation projects. The funding will cover the cost of loan guarantees, which could support as much as $4 billion to $8 billion in lending to eligible projects from the private sector, Chu noted.
The stimulus commitment comes with DOE's launch of what is called the Financial Institution Partnership Program, a streamlined set of standards designed to speed the agency's loan guarantee underwriting process and leverage private-sector expertise and capital.
The DOE funding announcements cheered the roomful of executives, but some of them are holding out for Congress to place a cap -- and price -- on carbon dioxide to catalyze the nation's clean-energy economy.
"There's an appetite for energy efficiency technology now, but there could be a much larger appetite," contended Greg Merritt, a vice president with Cree Inc., a Durham, N.C.-based maker of light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. The company makes all of its semiconductor chips in the United States and exports to China and other markets.
Entergy's Leonard waxed on about what kind of environmental and economic legacy U.S. political and business leaders will leave.
"This is not about us; this is about our children's children," Leonard said. "We're cheating them out of their future, and we're doing it with our eyes wide open."
"That is how history will judge us if we do not pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation," he added.