Nothing Trumps a Clean Energy Future

Equitable, wildlife-friendly policies are being threatened by the White House

Reprint of op-ed in The Hill.

(Photo Credit: UMASS Amherst)

Since Election Day, there have been countless articles forecasting possible Trump-induced reversal on clean energy growth, and even more optimistic analyses arguing clean energy growth is “Trump-proof.” The reality is that as Trump has stacked his Cabinet with avowed climate change deniers like Scott Pruitt, who writes in a National Review op-ed that climate science is “far from settled,” and industry titans like Exxon oilman Rex Tillerson, who downplays the seriousness of climate change and states our ability to predict climate change effect is very limited.

As President Trump prepares to gut our federal environmental policies and regulatory agencies, we need to be prepared to fight for an accelerated transition to a clean, equitable and wildlife-friendly energy future. This means defending the progress we’ve made, increasing public demand for clean energy and calling for renewed commitments from state and local governments to pursue strong clean energy targets.

There’s a lot Trump can and likely will do — as detailed in the leaked memo prepared by the head of his energy transition team — to stall the progress of renewable energy development. Frankly, we’d be better off picking a random person off the street to run the country for the next four years.

Unlike the incoming administration, which actively denies the reality of climate change, at least 7 out of 10 Americans believe in the science of human-induced climate change, and 9 in 10 favor expanding the use of solar power. But it’s not time to start planning a funeral for renewable energy; it’s time to start plotting the renewable-energy revolution. Simply put, we don’t have four years to wait.

Trump can stall clean energy development by eliminating renewable energy targets and restricting supportive policy tools, and he’s vowed to do both. The president has made his intentions clear: He’s looking to scrap the Clean Power Plan, which set reasonable goals to reduce emissions and spur renewable energy growth, and walk away from the Paris Climate Agreement soon after he takes office. And fossil fuel-friendly Cabinet choices (along with a one-sided Congress) mean the new administration is already stacking the deck against a wildlife-friendly energy future — there’s even further opportunity to create political distortion with federal judge appointments. This could all mean court decisions that favor fossil fuel interests and budget choices that eliminate clean energy development and research incentives while keeping polluting industries on government-funded life support.

So how do we go about not just protecting the progress we’ve made, or pushing for more renewable energy in general, but ensuring that as we accelerate clean energy development across the country, we do so in a way that protects the most vulnerable communities, species, and habitat?

All told, these threats may feel like a death knell, but there are many reasons why continued clean energy growth is still possible even in absence of a supportive federal government. Demand for clean energy continues to get stronger, and rooftop solar has become more competitive and affordable across the country. More than 30 communities — big and small — are pursuing a goal of 100 percent renewable energy, and even red states like Iowa and Texas are experiencing unprecedented clean-energy growth.

Yet a Trump administration dripping with fossil fuel interests will embolden renewable energy challengers at every level of government. To prevent steps backward in the fight for clean energy, we have to defend key renewable energy policies at the federal level and ensure that the federal extension of tax credit for solar and wind does not fall victim to a Trumpian tax reform. We have to remain steadfast in defending reasonable electricity rates for renewable customers like the net metering challenge in Nevada, Utah and Arizona; preventing anti-solar legislative changes like the failed ballot measure in Florida; demanding stronger and expanding programs at the state and local level. This means making sure rooftop solar owners get compensated for the value they bring to the grid, families have viable financing options to put solar panels on their homes, and those who can’t install solar on their own homes can join community shared solar programs. States must also set ambitious goals for renewable energy. We need our local governments to hasten their steps towards running entirely on clean energy.

Trump is in the White House, but with public demand for clean energy on our side, we will fight to ensure that, rather than allowing wildlife-friendly renewable energy growth to be stopped by Trump’s presidency, the clean energy revolution results in a clean and equitable energy future.

Chad Tudenggongbu is a senior renewable energy campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity.