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Here are two facts about the man who will soon be President of the United States, only one of which can be true...
He has said he would abolish the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; that climate change is a Chinese-made hoax; and that he would do everything possible to develop and consume domestic fossil fuels. Trump has also made the case that his primary qualification for the job is his experience in business. If the latter is true, then he would most certainly not follow through on any of those former statements.
The earth, and the U.S. economy, needs a president who understands that going green is the single most effective domestic business plan available to him and that burning more fossil fuels, while rolling back clean air and water regulations, will turn us into Beijing or Delhi.
Right now in India, air pollution has become so life-threatening that Delhi officials closed 1800 schools and are seeing up to 10 percent of the workforce calling in sick. The tourism and construction industries are also hard-hit, impacting businesses and workers alike. Trump has said he would prioritize infrastructure spending, but you can't build new roads and bridges if workers are ill and construction are sites shut down. Similar choking smog is well documented in Beijing, too, where simply breathing the air is the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes per day. Couldn't happen here? Those of us who have lived decades in Los Angeles know that it did.
"The earth, and the U.S. economy, needs a president who understands that going green is the single most effective domestic business plan available to him and that burning more fossil fuels, while rolling back clean air and water regulations, will turn us into Beijing or Delhi."
But the risk of turning our cities into Third World capitals isn't the only reason to go green — it's the "quick win" and long term business and job opportunities that should persuade any politician. Here are a few examples:
- Imagine how many local jobs can be created if we invest federal infrastructure funding to replace every streetlight in America with energy-efficient LEDs and repay the cost from lower maintenance expenses and from saving up 65% of the energy. This can be done very quickly and provides immediate benefits to local taxpayers.
- Businesses and local governments have discovered that they can reduce energy bills by a third, as the Empire State Building in New York did by retrofitting old windows, lighting, and other fixtures, repaid by energy savings in as little as 36 months. The federal government could offer a loan guarantee through the Small Business Administration (which avoids creating a new bureaucracy) for banks to provide the necessary funding for these retrofits, repaid by energy savings and collateralized by properties. Added bonus: the countless local jobs created can't be outsourced abroad.
- California has invested in goods movement "corridors" (for example, the Alameda rail corridor out of the ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach) that keep freight trains and trucks from creating traffic gridlock and air pollution. These kinds of improvements can be paid for with a fee on each container of goods being transported. In the Los Angeles/Long Beach example, many of these improvements were financed with a fee of up to $200/container, which is trivial compared to the tens of thousands of dollars of goods in each container and well worth the benefits of getting those goods moved to consumers much faster.
- Germany has become the world leader in using clean, renewable solar power by creating a feed-in tariff that turned individuals, small businesses, farmers, and municipalities into renewable energy entrepreneurs (a growing number of US states are also adopting this policy). In short, the feed-in tariff guarantees that if you generate renewable energy in excess of what you use, it will be purchased for resale on the grid. Unlike subsidies or tax breaks, the feed-in tariff harnesses the full force of the market, because anyone can install wind, solar, or other renewables and be assured of a buyer for the power. The federal government could require utilities to implement this program, costing not a single tax dollar while allowing anyone to become a renewable energy entrepreneur and start their own clean energy supply business.
- Stick to the Paris climate-change agreement, because the commitments made by nearly 200 countries to go green will create the biggest economic opportunity in history for American companies with clean technologies to export (and conversely, no one will want our fossil fuels).
There are many more examples of how going green will accomplish Trump's economic goals much faster than digging more oil and coal out of the ground and poisoning our citizens by burning those fuels. The government, NGO, and business leaders who have proven these policies in states and cities stand ready to do what President Obama asked of us — to make the country more successful over the next four years — but that can best be done by harnessing the power of green.
Commentary by Terry Tamminen, Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency in the Schwarzenegger administration. He is president of Seventh Generation Advisors, an operating partner at Pegasus Capital Advisors and the CEO of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. He is also the author of "Cracking the Carbon Code: The Key to Sustainable Profits in the New Economy." Follow him on Twitter @terrytamminen.