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Clean energy race falls to states, private sector as Congress puts up roadblocks

Apr 17, 2011|
The race to build a cleanenergy economy in the U.S. has run into roadblocks on Capitol Hill, leaving states and the private sector with little federal support as they try to transform this vision into reality.  To the dismay of environmentalists, efforts to pass new energy policies that would spur investments in wind, solar and other renewable sources of power have been stymied in Washington.
More recently, the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions has come under attack in Congress. And though President Barack Obama in March called for a one-third
reduction in U.S. oil imports by 2025, he offered few specifics on how the country would achieve that goal.
The gridlock and uncertainty are already having an impact. The U.S. ranked third in the world in attracting clean energy investments last year, trailing China and Germany, according to a report released last month from the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit public policy organization. In 2009, the U.S. was second.  “Overall, it is clear that the center of gravity for clean energy investment is shifting from the West (Europe and the U. S.) to the East (China, India and other Asian nations),” the authors of the report wrote.
David Foster, executive director for the BlueGreen Alliance, a partnership of 10 labor unions and four environmental organizations focused on creating green jobs, said that the longer the U.S. waits to make policy changes, the more the country will lag behind others.
“On a global level, the evolution toward a clean energy economy is well under way,” he said. “It is unfortunate that the United States is falling behind.”
Still, many of the biggest venture capital deals in the U.S. last year involved clean technology companies, according to the National Venture Capital Association. In addition, technological advances are lowering the costs of renewable power, making it more attractive for consumers and businesses. And many states, with California in the forefront, are pursuing a variety of green initiatives.
“The states have taken the lead in terms of energy policy,” said Skip Pruss, former director of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth who is now a principal at 5 Lakes Energy, a clean energy consulting firm in Lansing.
In Michigan, the alternative energy industry is waiting to see whether Gov. Rick Snyder will make clean tech investments a top priority. His predecessor, Jennifer Granholm, helped put Michigan on the
green map, using tax incentives and grants to lure billions in investments by advanced battery manufacturers and dozens of suppliers of solar panels and wind turbine parts.
The Michigan Economic Development Corp. is in the process of determining its strategy for the industry. “Stay tuned,” said agency spokesman Michael Shore.
Contact Katherine Yung: 313-222-8763