On June 12, the Sustainable Energy Coalition , in cooperation with the House and Senate Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucuses , hosted the 16th annual Congressional Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency EXPO and Forum . The EXPO brought together more than 50 businesses, trade associations, government agencies and energy policy research organizations to showcase renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.

Midway through the day-long event, four U.S. Representatives from the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus stood at the podium of the Cannon House Caucus Room to address the audience of clean energy leaders in business, science and policy from across the United States. They lauded their success in advancing clean energy technology, but also noted the distance that the United States and the world must still go to achieve a more secure energy future.


Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) , the first congressman to speak, predicted that two reports would be impetuses of change in the American energy economy. The first is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announcement that the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere broke the symbolic milestone of 400 parts per million (ppm) in May. “That is a milestone we do not want to reach,” Van Hollen said. The last time CO2 levels were at 400ppm was over 3 million years ago, when sea levels were approximately 30 feet higher. The Congressman noted that the urgency of this announcement is also inseparable from an opportunity to create jobs, grow the economy and achieve energy security by investing in clean American energy. On that topic, he cited a second report, a paper by the PEW Charitable Trusts, entitled, “Who’s winning the Clean Energy Race?” Van Hollen was optimistic about the paper’s finding that global clean energy investment in 2012 reached $269 billion—five times greater than investment in 2004—but was critical of the United States for accounting for only $35 billion of those investments, compared to China’s $65 billion. He said that although the whole world benefits from clean energy advancements, wherever they occur, the United States could invest more for the purpose of domestic job creation.


Representative Dave Reichert (R-WA) echoed Van Hollen’s assertion that American energy advancement creates American jobs, and expressed his confidence in the American scientific community. To demonstrate how quickly the United States can progress scientifically, he compared changes in the energy economy to changes in his previous profession as a homicide detective 30 years ago. In the 1980s, the Congressman said, he could have never imagined that DNA science would emerge within two decades to exponentially facilitate the identification of suspects and culprits. Even more inconceivable in the 1980s was the idea that the same DNA science would be used to successfully combat cancer. Noting the speed with which society develops science and technology to solve its most daunting problems, he said to the audience of business, science and policy leaders, “You will find the answer to our energy needs.”


Following Reichert was Representative Tony Cardenas (D-CA) , who pointed out that he is one of the only electrical engineers in Congress. Cardenas recounted his prior work as a Los Angeles City Councilman, pushing for a renewable portfolio standard in America’s largest electrical and water power district. He assured the audience that American voters can convince Congress to work toward a clean energy future, just as public demand drove the choices of the Los Angeles City Council a decade ago. Cardenas proudly announced that because of increased efficiency, Los Angeles today uses the same amount of power that it did 20 years ago despite having a higher population and more business activity. “I understand that the cleanest energy is the energy that we don’t use,” he said. Cardenas closed with some inspiring words on the Congressional Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucuses: “This is, in my opinion, where the Sierra Club meets the Chamber of Commerce and they walk toward each other not in animus but in friendship and collaboration and they shake hands and say ‘on this, my brothers and sisters, we are together.’ So congratulations to you all on being part of the solution.”


The final Representative to speak was Paul Tonko (D-NY) , who asserted that energy imports are largely detrimental to the U.S. economy, foreign policy and the environment. By sending hundreds of billions of dollars to oil-exporting governments, some of which are hostile to the United States, “We’re paying for both ends of the war,” while growing our debt by investing in other countries rather than our own, he said. The process of importing energy also contributes to climate change by burning significant amounts of fuel in the transportation process, before the energy is even used. Tonko cited last week’s record flooding in Germany and throughout Europe as an example of the extreme weather that climate change has made more likely. The Congressman closed by discussing the growth of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition , which has become the second-largest congressional caucus since he helped to form it in his first term. “As far as I see it,” he said, “this agenda for energy transformation, energy efficiency and renewables is a nonpartisan agenda. Republicans and Democrats alike benefit, Republicans and Democrats alike want cleaner air, Republicans and Democrats alike want less dependency on foreign-produced oil that will then keep us out of some of these conflicts.”

The Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucuses were formed in the late 1990s by a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives who wished to increase awareness of renewable energy and energy efficiency. EESI was involved in the founding of the House and Senate caucuses in the 1990s, and regularly collaborates with the Caucuses to distribute information about renewable energy and energy efficiency.


Author: Ben Wolkon