As I sat with several others at a lunch table last week with Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, who was about to address the City Club of Cleveland, I received a text message that the Obama administration's decision on the Keystone XL pipeline was coming that afternoon. And with that decision to deny the pipeline permit, it was fitting that Chu spoke that day of Obama's plan to reduce oil imports by one-third by 2025, modernize the electric grid, support fuel-efficient vehicles, and invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
The rejection of the 2,150-mile tar sands pipeline, to run from Canada to Texas, is a huge victory, but the fight will continue this week with a rally in Washington, D.C. Knowing that the effort to prevent the further extraction of tar sands oil is far from over and to keep the momentum going on the issue, 350.org will hold a rally at noon on Tuesday, Jan. 24 on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building to "blow the whistle" on the corruption that passes for business as usual on Capitol Hill.
As Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, said after the pipeline decision last week, Big Oil will do everything it can to overturn this decision and blocking one pipeline isn't enough to stop global warming.
"We'll be fighting to prevent Keystone, but we'll also be fighting to shut off the flow of handouts to the oil, gas and coal industries, and to take away their right to use the atmosphere as an open sewer into which to dump their carbon for free," McKibben said.
Despite strong threats from Big Oil and pressure from Republicans in Congress, who forced the issue by passing a 60-day time limit for a final decision on the project, Obama stood strong stating that the arbitrary nature of this deadline prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people.
However, President Obama's statement on the Keystone XL pipeline, he said that he would continue to look for new ways to partner with the oil and gas industry to increase U.S. energy security -- including the potential development of an oil pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico.
Last weeks landmark decision proves that the power of the people can create change when individuals unite to protect human health and the environment in support of policies that promote energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainable jobs.
During his 30-minute talk in Cleveland, Chu addressed the intellectual power of the U.S. and how clean energy innovation is a sweet spot for our country. From the most entrepreneurial people on the planet to the expertise and inventiveness of American universities, the U.S. could certainly be the world leader in the green tech industry. However, as Chu pointed out, the U.S. trails far behind other nations, including China, South Korea and Germany, and will fall even further behind once investments made through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expire.
He talked about how government plays an important role as a first early adopter of new technologies and how policies are needed to guide private investments to get these products to market and to create a draw.
As Chu sees it, if the U.S. is to regain the lead, or even to prevent it from falling further behind, Congress needs to understand the importance of passing legislation that unlocks private investment to provide new technologies a chance to succeed in the competitive market place, thereby renewing the American spirit.
Chu mentioned a time when he was under fire from Congress on how long he thought renewable energy would need incentives to be cost-competitive with fossil fuels. His response was that renewable energy should be competitive in the marketplace without incentives within the next two decades, a much shorter time span than the 100 years of subsidies provided to the oil, gas and coal industries.
In sum, Chu said, we have to get beyond sound bites, realize that energy issues are nonpartisan and that yes, indeed, "government policy drives investment."