During the campaign, President Obama laid out his vision for combating global climate change. Unfortunately, President Obama’s original vision seems to have been all but forgotten. His original proposal included a call for a national renewable energy standard (RES) where, by the year 2025, a full quarter of the nation’s electricity would be generated by renewable sources. He seems to have lost sight of this vision.

In late June, the House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, by many accounts a landmark bill in the fight against climate change. This piece of legislation is barely a step in the right direction—it can and must do more. The bill as passed mandates that by the year 2020, 20% of our electricity generated must come from renewable sources. However, up to 8% can come from efficiency improvements, potentially limiting generation from alternative sources to 12%. Energy efficiency is important, but efficiency improvements should be made in addition to increasing generation of alternative energy, rather than at its expense. More exasperating is that after 2020, the RES remains static at 20% through 2039, inexplicably halting the push against climate change even as necessity tells us that we must forge ahead.

The bill currently in Senate committee hearings is an even greater misstep, mandating only a 15% renewable standard by 2020. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimate that, when energy efficiencies and loopholes are taken into account, the Senate bill would only require 7.4% – 10.7% of energy from renewable sources. To put this into perspective, the Department of Energy estimates that given current state policies—without any federal intervention—10.2% of electricity generated in the U.S. will come from renewable sources by 2021. 17 states plus the District of Columbia have passed RES legislation stricter than what the Senate proposes. The federal government must do more than maintain the status quo.

Marchant Wentworth, an advocate from the UCS, spoke out against the Senate legislation. “This bill’s renewable standard is so pitiful that it wouldn’t require any new renewable energy development beyond business as usual,” he said. “Moreover, if any states adopted the loopholes and exemptions in this bill, it could reduce the amount of renewable energy development we expect under existing state policies.”

Saving the environment need not come at great expense. In fact, studies show that such legislation would be a boon to the economy. The UCS reports that a strong national RES would create 297,000 new jobs and would lower electricity and natural gas bills for consumers by $64.3 billion. It would also generate $13.5 billion in new revenue for landowners who allow renewable energy generation on their property.

Legislators should also be aware of a poll conducted by the American Wind Energy Association that found that 75% of Americans support a national RES.
Since 2002, Congress has repeatedly tried and failed to pass climate change legislation. In the mean time, 27 states plus the District of Columbia have passed RES bills while five other states have set voluntary goals for adopting renewable energy. Not a single state has repealed an RES after passing one, and most states have already reached or are close to reaching their renewable standards. Many states are even increasing the percentage of renewable energy called for in their legislation.

Under President Bush, the Department of Energy released a study outlining a feasible scenario where 20% of the nation’s electricity could be provided by wind power by the year 2030. If the Bush administration could envision such a plan, why should the Obama administration settle for less? This is the time to aim high.

Adopting a national RES of 25% by 2025 will help save our environment, reduce energy prices and create jobs. Help President Obama remember his original vision.