Midwestern Energy: Republican Governors Champion Clean Energy in Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and Illinois

Credit: Wind and Corn image by jmogs via Flickr

With prospects for continued climate and clean energy advances dimming inside the Beltway, states and cities are going to have to be key policy makers. But the narrative from national media would make this also look unlikely. The caricature of folks out here in “the flyover” as an angry populace clamoring for the dirtiest of manufacturing and fossil fuels jobs is…well…wrong. Despite what the President-elect seems to have gleaned from the election, given his aggressively anti-environment cabinet picks, that is simply not the reality on the ground. The reality is that we in the heartland did not vote to harm our health and safety, and many governors are already picking up the slack on clean energy policy that everyone otherwise expects out of DC.

And, by the way, these governors are not Democrats. 

In Illinois, Ohio and Michigan there is a clear trend: Republican governors in all three heavy manufacturing states have rolled up their sleeves to actively advance important climate and clean energy policies this month.

Not because of politics—but because it is good policy that creates jobs and makes the state more competitive. And I think that we are going to see a lot more of that.

Here is what has happened in December:


David Roberts at Vox called Illinois’ Future Energy Jobs Bill perhaps the second biggest climate action taken by a state in recent years after California’s ground-breaking efforts. My colleague Nick Magrisso detailed the bill in his blog—and he would know, having been intensely involved in bringing it to life over the last two years—but at a basic level it creates mechanisms and funding to ensure the state reaches its goal of deriving 25% of its power from renewable sources by 2025, makes northern Illinois a national leader in energy efficiency and (controversially) ensures the state could replace the carbon-emission-free output of two nuclear plants as clean energy scales. And while much of the work was conducted in the legislature, first-term republican Governor Bruce Rauner signed the bipartisan Future Energy Jobs Bill into law to accelerate the clean energy economy.


My colleague Ariana Gonzalez outlines Michigan’s clean energy bill on her blog. After serious threats to eliminate both the renewable portfolio standard and the energy efficiency standard, Michigan passed legislation that improved aspects of both. The fact that this has moved at all is an incredible turnaround from where the political tea leaves were pointing not long ago. Just a couple days ago, the bill looked stuck in the legislature until Governor Rick Snyder got personally involved to get the deal done. Through bipartisan compromise we were able to ramp up the RPS from 10% to 15%, retain the energy efficiency standard with incentives for growth and maintain key policies like net metering.


My colleague Samantha Williams has had her nose in the fight over Ohio’s Renewable Energy Portfolio for years as the state Legislature has repeatedly, brazenly, worked to stifle renewable energy and efficiency efforts at the behest of the state’s dirtiest utility and mining interests. Two years ago, a bill froze Ohio’s clean energy policies. That bill would sunset at the end of the calendar year, so the dirty energy devotees in the statehouse advanced a bill to continue the freeze. Governor Kasich rightly saw this as a drag on the state’s economy and job-creation potential and bravely vetoed the bill, opening the door to a resumption of clean energy development in the Buckeye State.  

And while Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s nomination as Ambassador to China might be viewed as the region losing one of its most effective clean energy boosters. He will be succeeded by Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds who is expected to continue to the policies that have helped ensure Iowa is among the nation’s leading wind generating states, generating more than 35% of its electricity. 

Cities and states are where the policy rubber meets the road. They have to make things work. As clean energy technologies proliferate cheaply the costs of the sorts of ideological policies developed to benefit special interests that seem likely to emanate from the new Congress and Trump Administration just won’t work for Mayors and Governors. Officials in DC should see the writing on the wall in the Midwest: clean energy works for people, the economy and the public interest. The recent presidential election was about a lot of things, but in much of the Midwest, it wasn’t about pushing back on clean energy. Clearly, folks on the right in the Midwest are not looking for their elected officials to dirty up the place...

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