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An Energy and Climate Bill for the Rest of Us

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Michael Sauvante     Permalink
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On June 26th, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 2454, The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES), one of the most important pieces of legislation ever passed by the House concerning energy and the environment.

However, many of us feel that ACES did not go anywhere near far enough and wish to see the Senate substantially strengthen the bill. In fact, many in the environmental community have reluctantly concluded that what got enacted in the House may actually be detrimental to the intended goals of the legislation and therefore opposed it.

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Most of the high profile battles revolve around the bill's "cap and trade" provisions and all their derivative impacts. If the bill that is eventually signed into law resembles the House version, the fears of the environmental community may well prove justified.

Matt Taibbi, writing in Rolling Stone Magazine, certainly thinks so. In his July article "The Great American Bubble Machine," he predicts that the carbon trading authorized by the bill could create a new commodities bubble, a repeat of the "commodities-market casino" that has resulted in windfalls for investment banks (Goldman Sachs in particular) at the expense of small investors and taxpayers. As he puts it, "Organized greed always defeats disorganized democracy."

However, and this is a big however, that doesn't mean that ordinary citizens have to passively watch this diversion of ACES from an effective piece of climate and energy legislation into a cash cow for special interests. Quite the opposite. We can do a great deal, and do so in a manner that cannot be stopped by those who would manipulate the law, money and markets to their advantage and to our detriment.

We simply become the mammals to their dinosaurs. When conditions changed, dinosaurs were unable to adapt while small mammals survived. Wall Street, the big banks and all the other lumbering players who control and manipulate the game are today's dinosaurs. Our survival depends on our working around the upcoming extinction event and ensuring that we are positioned to thrive. As Margaret Mead famously said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

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So, just what can we do? We begin by recognizing that our country will not achieve a pervasive and deep conversion to renewable energy unless we achieve it on a widespread basis at the community level - regardless of what happens at the macro level. All the big government and big business solutions in the world won't fundamentally alter our condition until and unless we all get involved!

Community by community, we can organize to address our individual and collective carbon footprints and launch community-wide efforts to green our communities, and in turn, the world. That requires a plan and the tools to implement it.

And that is precisely what we advocate in the form of legislation to be included in the Senate version of ACES and retained in the final bill. We are the "For a Green America" campaign (, a collaboration between for-profit and non-profit groups and individuals from across the political spectrum who champion an inclusive, widespread, community-based solution to our energy and environment crises.

Our addition to the bill would actively support greening efforts in every community, independently and without government intervention.

Currently, communities can band together to share ideas and other resources, as well as become part of organized efforts like Transition Towns , the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) and the CEED Program that are designed to help communities help themselves.

Existing government programs can aid in such efforts, but more can be done if the federal government focuses on efforts to assist whole communities in helping green themselves. That is where ACES comes in.

The bill makes much of programs at the macro level while saying almost nothing about the micro level. It contains a number of programs and incentives to train people for green collar jobs and to encourage the creation of green jobs, but nearly all its elements entail passive incentives only. ACES lacks a means to directly engage whole communities to foster the greening of their local economies.

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It also falls short on providing the means for the proactive creation of thousands of small and medium sized green companies in those communities - companies that will hire green collar workers, a key goal of this legislation. Since small business has been the engine of job creation for decades, and it is clear that new green small businesses are the key to green job creation. Therefore we believe that the government should take a more proactive approach to the creation of small businesses as a way to green our economy from the bottom up.

But creating small businesses is something that neither the government nor big business is very well equipped to accomplish. Nobody understands small business like the small business community. Therefore, government must partner with small business experts in each and every community, each bringing their strengths to a coordinated effort. This would result in a bottom up solution, in contrast with government's normal top down approach.

We believe those missing ingredients could produce results that rival or even exceed the cumulative impacts of the rest of the bill. Yet including them should not be nearly as controversial as other elements like cap-and-trade and are unlikely to elicit much, if any, partisan bickering.

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Michael Sauvante is a California entrepreneur with over 30 years business experience. He has founded and run over a half dozen small companies, mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley. Along the way he accumulated a great deal of (more...)

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