Clean energy is our clear goal By Cynthia Thielen

Twelve CLEAN members, including myself, were invited to the White House last week to meet with President Barack Obama’s key energy team. We met in the Roosevelt Room, across the hall from the Oval Office, to begin what became a three-hour session. We grouped around the table used by the president and his staff to listen to the president’s team and provide state input.

Leading off the White House’s welcome to CLEAN leaders, Nick Rathod, associate director of intergovernmental affairs stated: “The president is fully committed to clean energy legislation.”

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack talked about how clean energy is key to improving America’s economy and security. He called for a shift from the present “consumer orientation” to a mode that will create innovative jobs to put America back in control of its own energy destiny.

Of particular importance to Hawaii, Secretary Vilsack informed us of the memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Navy: 50 percent of its energy needs will come from renewable sources, and the program is starting in Hawaii.

I told Secretary Vilsack about the wave energy projects under way — one to go offshore of Maui, the other off the Marine Corps base in Kaneohe — after which the secretary added “wave energy” to his list of renewables. His message was clear: We will not be the most powerful nation in the world in 20 years unless we step up and meet the challenges to use America’s resources, create the jobs and become energy independent.

We then discussed strategy and the myriad of groups coming together to support and promote clean energy for America. Thirty governors have formed a bipartisan Governors Coalition on Energy and Climate Change. That and the more than 1,120 state legislators in CLEAN are sending a powerful message to Congress to act now to end our foreign oil dependency, to create new green energy jobs and make our nation more secure.

The next day, farmers, veterans and union, faith, environmental and business leaders from around the country attended the 2010 Clean Energy Jobs and Security Forum at the Dirksen Senator Office Building. I followed Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), speaking in the opening session. Sen. Kerry, joined by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has sponsored legislation to move America forward with a new clean energy economy. In my remarks, I talked about Hawaii’s excessive dependence on imported fossil fuel and our high energy costs, and how in response we have established the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative. The HCEI’s target is 70 percent clean energy by 2030.

After asking for a show of hands of those from coastal states, and seeing a significant number, I discussed Hawaii’s wave-energy prospects, noting that ocean waves contain an immense amount of power per square meter, more than any other source of renewable energy.

Stewart Acuff, Utility Workers Union of America and special assistant to the president, said there are 8.3 million members in the Union Environment Alliance eager to put America back to work. He stated that domestic manufacture of renewable technologies and moving to a green environment will create 2 million new, well-paying jobs. His message was that good jobs and a healthy environment complement one another.

Before the lunch, I met with Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu. I asked him for federal support for Hawaii’s renewable energy.

Leaders from all over the nation are saying to Congress: Pass legislation now to create clean energy jobs and make America a leader and secure.

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