For a number of years now, the Koch brothers and their allies have been doing their best to sabotage our nation's efforts to transition to renewable energy. But even in red states, lawmakers have been saying "no way" to efforts to roll back renewable energy standards.
A reminder of that came in a recent email from Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a nonpartisan business group, reporting that more than 9,800 clean energy and clean transportation jobs were announced during the first three months of 2015. The top three states were Georgia with 2,870 jobs, California with 1,885 and Texas with 1,612.
Most of the new jobs in Georgia came in the solar industry. The E2 email included this paragraph:
"I have always stated that expanding solar creates jobs," said Debbie Dooley, co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party and founder of the Green Tea Coalition, which advocates for more solar energy and increased competition in several states. "I am very proud to see that Georgia is leading the way on solar job creation thanks to the leadership of our conservative elected officials. The sun is shining brightly in Georgia, and it is creating jobs."
Yes, you read that right: The founder of the Atlanta Tea Party is an advocate for solar energy. She has gone head-to-head with the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity over clean energy and won.
"Tea Party activists gravitate toward free-market choice," she told CNBC. "They don't like a centralized power system, so naturally they came on board with solar, with choice and with competition."
Or consider the case of Kansas, where Wichita is the home of the Koch brothers' business empire. Americans for Prosperity and the state Chamber of Commerce had been trying for several years to repeal the state's Renewal Portfolio Standard, which calls for Kansas to get 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. In May they finally succeeded. That sounds like a victory for the Kochs, but in a Grist piece, Bentham Paulos points out that the victory doesn't do much except let the Kochs and AFP save face since Kansas already gets 21.7 percent of its power from 3,000 megawatts of wind power, with more wind farms under construction. Kansas is one of the states in the corridor from Texas up through North Dakota where harvesting wind energy works particularly well. Many Kansas farmers are making good money from licensing fees for wind turbines, so they've seen the benefits of wind energy and don't want to lose them.
While Dooley and other tea party supporters see wind and solar energy as a free-market issue, other conservatives base their support for renewable energy on their religious beliefs.
"The more we use clean energy, the more we are acting as disciples of Christ," the Rev. Mitch Hescox, president and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network, told CNBC. His organization believes "that creation care is truly a matter of life and that pollution harms the vulnerable, especially children and the unborn."
When you think about their reasons, it's not surprising that a growing number of fiscal and evangelical conservatives are supporting renewables. The surprising part is that we don't hear more about it. Now that Pope Francis has added his voice to those calling for us to take better care of our planet, perhaps we will.
Unfortunately, it sounds like the God the pope listens to is not the same one who talks to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. As he campaigned July 17 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Walker repeated his call for phasing out wind power subsidies. Does he realize that Iowa is a wind power leader, with turbines producing 28.5 percent of the state's electricity in 2014? Apparently he wasn't paying attention when his campaign RV went through the western counties, where we spotted lots and lots of wind turbines as we drove this month to Denver and back. Will he get an earful from Iowans who like the fact that they can harvest wind instead of spending money to buy fossil fuels?
At one time Wisconsin was a leader on renewable energy, adopting a goal of getting 10 percent of our energy from renewable sources by 2015. We made that modest goal early, prompting Democrats to call on the state to up the ante to 30 percent by 2030. But under Walker, that's not in the cards. In fact, neighboring states caught up and passed us, and it's not just Iowa. Both Minnesota and Illinois have adopted a Renewable Portfolio Standard of 25 percent by 2025.
It's too bad business-friendly Walker isn't more concerned about helping green energy businesses — those companies provide good jobs and renewable energy allows Wisconsin to avoid sending money out of state to buy fossil fuels. That sure would help our struggling state economy. It's a win-win. The problem is that win-win fails to account for Walker's friends the Koch brothers, who are in the business of selling fossil fuels.
But even as the Kochs spend millions to elect politicians to do their bidding, there are reasons for a glimmer of hope that the billionaire brothers could pivot to support renewable energy. First, these guys are smart — they both have master's degrees from MIT — and they have to be paying attention to the pushback from the free-market and religious conservatives who have embraced renewables. As climate change worsens, the pressure will increase for the U.S. to put a tax on the carbon in fossil fuels. Second, as they look at the millions that Kansas farmers collect each year in turbine license fees, they can see that there's money to be made on renewables. They don't have to give up fossil fuels in order to invest in renewable energy. They could do both, and give up their campaign to thwart renewables. Why not?
Finally, they won't live forever. David Koch is 75 and Charles Koch is 79. What's on their bucket list? They have to be thinking about their legacy. Do they want to leave the world a better place?
Back in 2006, after our state had passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, few would have thought that such marriages would be the law of the land less than a decade later. A month ago, few would have expected Confederate flags to be disappearing from store shelves and public buildings across the land.
So here's hoping that the Kochs will have a kumbaya moment. I'm not holding my breath, but it could happen.
Judie Kleinmaier is an opinion editor for The Cap Times.
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