Keeping America Great: Smart Rules Can Help The Economy And Nature Prosper

Barely a month after his inauguration, President Trump is proceeding with plans to dismantle protections under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.  The targets include limiting pollution into streams and wetlands that flow into drinking water for a hundred million Americans, automobile fuel economy standards that cut tailpipe pollution, and performance standards under the Clean Power Plan that would boost renewable power and fight climate change.  Trump and his EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, have drawn up reckless plans to slash EPA’s budget—greeted with derision even by some Republicans in Congress.  With the tragic story of Flint still fresh in people’s minds, the President is betraying the demands of his own supporters — fully 64% of Trump voters want to maintain or increase spending on environmental protection.

These actions are a tragic wrong turn for the country — and not just because they threaten to roll back decades of progress on air and water pollution, and the recent steps forward on climate change.

What I especially worry about are the lost opportunities for economic growth, new jobs, and the competitiveness of American companies — at a time when China and others are stepping up.

I think we can all agree that America is great in part because of our huge capacity for innovation — from Henry Ford to Elon Musk. But sadly, the new administration fails to understand that affirmative government policy has a crucial role to play in keeping the engine of innovation healthy and humming. In fact, during my decades of working under six different EPA administrators, almost all of them Republicans, I’ve seen first-hand the ability of smart regulations to unleash the enormous power of American ingenuity and entrepreneurship.

Smart rules — focused on results, not process — stimulate new ideas, create new markets and jobs, and raise living standards for all Americans. The limits imposed on pollution spewing from auto exhaust pipes not only cleaned the air and improved health, for example, they also spurred new technologies that increase fuel efficiency. As a result, Americans save money every time they pull up to the gas pump (though these benefits are threatened by the plans to roll back fuel economy standards). Similarly, protecting the ozone layer drove the development of new refrigerants, bringing higher profits for the innovative companies that paved the way to the new products.

But don’t take my word for it.

Clean states

"I refused to gamble on the energy diversity options." — Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner

Listen instead to Bruce Rauner, the Republican governor of Illinois. Rauner recently signed a bipartisan bill that requires utilities in the state to generate 25% of their electricity from clean renewable sources like wind and solar by 2025 and to significantly boost the efficiency of energy use in homes and businesses. The mandates are good for the planet, of course, because they will cut the state’s emissions of climate change-causing greenhouse gases even more than would be required under Obama’s Clean Power Plan. And far from killing the economy, they will entice more than $10 billion in new investment dollars into the state and save people money on their electric bills. “I refused to gamble on thousands of good-paying jobs, and I refused to gamble on the energy diversity options for the people of Illinois,” Rauner told the Chicago Sun-Times. “That’s why I fought to make this bill happen.”

Clean grid

These regulations are stimulating the economy by creating high-paying jobs in construction and in manufacturing.

Or consider a seemingly arcane change in rules by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) about how transmission grid operators are paid to manage power fluctuations on the grid. The rule change has already spurred competition and made it cheaper (and more effective) to rely on batteries instead of ramping up gas generators — and helped fuel a whole new business in large-scale battery storage. Now, that industry is being truly kick-started by regulatory mandates, first in California, then in Oregon and Massachusetts, requiring that hundreds of megawatts of storage be added to the grid. This support in the early phase will help make battery storage competitive everywhere. These regulations are crucial weapons in the fight against climate change. But just as important, they are stimulating the economy by creating high-paying jobs in construction and in manufacturing facilities like Tesla’s battery gigafactory. As California Governor Jerry Brown says: “Regulation inspires innovation.

Clean cars

I’ve been fortunate to personally benefit from such innovations. Pacific Gas and Electric is paying me to use my electric car as flexible power storage on their grid. PG&E and BMW have teamed up in a pilot project to test how to use plugged-in electric vehicles to meet short spikes in the supply of clean power. The utility saves money on power plants, can build-in more renewables, and will pay owners like me up to $900 over the two-year program. I’m also thrilled by the many advantages of the car itself: peppy acceleration, whisper-quiet operation, and low maintenance costs.

Clean tech

Breathtaking innovation in sensors, artificial intelligence, and advanced materials can thrive because the US creates the right environment. But an ideologically blinded attack on all government funding and regulation will create uncertainty and smother innovation that we desperately need. More than ever, we urgently need to protect the environment and slow climate change with smart investments and standards that also increase prosperity for all Americans. “The key is designing policies that point the way forward while creating a wide playing field for innovators to develop the best solutions,” says Anthony (Tony) F. Earley, Jr., Executive Chair of the Board of PG&E Corporation.

Global momentum

China is creating the world’s largest carbon emissions trading system.

Other countries understand this urgency. China is creating the world’s largest carbon emissions trading system, harnessing the power of the free market to fuel innovation and find the cheapest and best approaches to cutting carbon pollution.  In a powerful symbolic move, China just announced a competition to develop key market infrastructure — on the Friday before the National People’s Congress.

Countries like Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway are already far ahead of us in shares of renewable power or electric cars and are reaping the resulting economic benefits from their homegrown innovations and world-leading companies. Eliminating the rules that have been successful in stimulating clean energy advances here in America will only put us further behind.

With the right smart regulations and policies, we can protect our cherished clean air and clean water and stabilize the climate. And at the same time, we will also keep America great.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.

Photo source: Grid Alternatives

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