Town Hall Talks about Climate Should Be About Solutions, Not Intimidation

I had been looking forward to the August Congressional recess as a time to engage with lawmakers about the upcoming clean energy legislation and the economic opportunities it would unleash. After all, when representatives are in their home states, they can hear directly from their constituents - workers, manufacturers, executives, and other concerned citizens - who should welcome job creation and sustainable growth embedded in the bill.

But, as we've now seen, the town halls meetings held by representatives have erupted into shouting matches and mob scenes, bringing productive conversations to a halt.

While the primary target of vitriol has been health care reform, recent accounts make it clear that some corporate-funded efforts to take down health legislation also want to sink clean energy and climate legislation.

As I just read in the Wall Street Journal, oil companies, like those which support the American Petroleum Institute, have teamed up with astroturf groups, such as Freedom Works, to fund rallies and try to block action on clean energy and climate legislation.

Another group Americans for Prosperity, for instance, is opposed to both health care reform and the Senate's clean energy bill. Rather then being an outgrowth of grassroots concern, it was founded and funded by a top executive at Koch Industries, an enormous oil and gas giant that is one of the largest privately held corporations on the globe.

Similarly, the New York Times reported that the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity--supported by coal companies-- was shipping out "America's Power Army" to town hall meetings. But as my colleague Pete Altman has pointed out, the so-called army is so starved for actual citizens that it has resorted to fraud in its letter campaigns against climate legislation.

As I read the accounts about the rancor--and effigies--found at the recent town hall meetings, I can't help but notice that these disruptive forces aren't offering any solutions. Instead they are peddling misinformation and fear to stop America from moving in a new direction. Change can be hard - and we have every right to get clear explanations and straight answers from our elected leaders. But, the "Just Say No" crowd is simply holding us back from a clean energy future.

What is their plan for dealing with soaring unemployment and our dangerous dependence on oil?

In the face of economic turmoil and global warming, America urgently needs constructive answers, not intimidation. We need bold new opportunities, not business as usual.

Clean energy and climate legislation can get America moving down a cleaner, more efficient path that will generate more jobs for here in America.

  • Between 1998 and 2007, clean energy economy jobs--a mix of white and blue-collar positions--grew by 9.1 percent nationally, while total jobs grew by only 3.7 percent.
  • Clean-energy industries have already produced 750,000 clean energy jobs without sustained policy attention. In contrast, traditional energy companies have enjoyed decades of federal subsidies and yet account for only 1.27 million jobs.
  • But the job opportunities don't stop with the energy sector. Over the last 35 years, for instance, energy efficiency measures have enabled California households to redirect their expenditures toward other goods and services, creating about 1.5 million full-time jobs with a total payroll of $45 billion.
  • And for every new job foregone in California's oil, gas, and electric power sectors between 1972 and 2006, more than 50 new jobs have been created across the state's diverse economy as a result of energy efficiency.
  • As I've mentioned before, the Political Economy Research Institute found that a $150 billion investment in clean energy would create 1.7 million jobs; more than half of which would go to people with a high-school education or less.

America needs real solutions - and we need everyone to do their part by encouraging your Senators to move forward with clean energy and climate legislation. Now, is the time for them to hear from you -- whether its by sending a letter, clicking here, or by going to a town hall meeting in your home state.

The next few months are critical in this debate. I hope you will lend your voice toward a positive conversation for America's future about how we can create jobs, shift to clean energy and unleash economic opportunities across America.