For Immediate Release
June 3, 2022
NEW YORK – In a talk to the Korean Energy Transition Forum, Dr. John Byrne called it a paradox that despite national climate and energy policy failure in the United States, the American people, through their state and local governments and regional partnerships, have been successful in their demands to pass impactful policies to lower national emissions.
Communities are faster-acting and set higher targets than policymakers at the national level, according to Byrne. Co-benefits such as jobs, local development, clean air, and water are driving support for clean energy. The political and economic support is proving to be more resilient and enduring for electricity surplus to serve the aim of social justice and sustainability.
In the hour-long public talk via remote video conference on May 18 sponsored by the Energy Transition Forum, Byrne called for a transformative energy transition.
It is the job of Energy Transition Forums to search for transformative scale energy change. The encouraging news he said is that “we have the technology we need” and with the right policy structure, it is cheaper.
Byrne said through innovative policies supported by 44 states and more than 2,000 cities in the United States, the American people have been extraordinarily successful in passing meaningful policies to markedly lower national emissions while providing affordable, secure electricity prices and increased job opportunities in the U.S. electricity sector.
Byrne is the co-founder and director of the Foundation for Renewable Energy and Environment and a distinguished professor of energy & climate policy at the University of Delaware’s Biden School of Public Policy & Administration.
The Problem: No More Space for Carbon Created by Fossil Fuels
Byrne called it an “inescapable conclusion” that the remaining fossil fuel resources far exceed atmospheric disposal space for carbon emissions.
Byrne said there is no more disposal space for more carbon created by fossil fuels but it will take 50 years or more to halt the spread of the disaster that has already been created. He said between 2005 and 2020, the US was forced to spend $1.3 billion to clean up the damage from so-called billion-dollar disasters, its biggest storms, fires, etc. that are due to climate change.
Even the richest country on Earth cannot afford the cost of climate change, and it cannot escape from this cost, according to Byrne. Neither can the poor, who suffer despite having no responsibility for the problem.
Among the many examples of the solar savings potential that Byrne gave was New York City, saying it is famous for its high real estate prices but its rooftops are underutilized and are collecting solar energy.
With existing energy efficiency technology with 7-year paybacks and with existing solar panels, New York City can be a surplus city from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., which would be transformative.
Energy efficiency and rooftop solar are cheaper in 48 states than retail prices for new natural gas and nuclear plants.
U.S. Climate Policy Failure…and the Solution
Byrne said the United States’ problem is not technology or economic, rather it is the failure to adopt a policy that favors sustainability and justice over destructive growth.
Byrne said that no national climate policy bill has been allowed to be discussed since 2003. By filibuster, the minority Republican Party in the U.S. Senate has prevented budget support to lower the cost of federal energy spending. The only bills passed by the U.S. Senate were anti-climate policies that required the U.S to reject the Kyoto Protocol, prevent a former president from adopting the Clean Power Plan, and declare U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.
He said the solution is to rely on catalysts of change such as communities and energy transition funds.
After “cancel-olitics” prevented policy action, Byrne said a “polycentric rebellion” of local alliances has built a net-zero governance and policy structure that has endured and grown in achievements for 20 years.
The American people have fought back using local political and economic tools. Local and national energy transition funds are inventing policies.
Rejecting the record of national policy inaction, the American people – through their state and local governments and regional partnerships involving government and business participants – have built a policy and governance framework over the last 20 years that has deployed energy efficiency and renewable energy option to substantially cut emissions of the electricity sector while keeping prices affordable and secure from international fuel market volatility.
The Biden Agenda
Byrne said U.S. President Biden ran as a candidate on a climate and energy policy platform that called for the United States to adopt a net-zero emissions goal by mid-century.
On his first day in office, January 20, 2021, Biden signed the instrument to bring the United States back into the Paris Agreement. Biden also signed an Executive Order directing the federal government to use its scale and procurement power to achieve five ambitious goals:
- One hundred percent carbon pollution-free electricity by 2030, at least half of which will be locally supplied clean energy to meet 24/7 demand;
- One hundred percent zero-emission vehicle acquisitions by 2035, including 100 percent zero-emission light-duty vehicle acquisitions by 2027;
- Net-zero emissions from federal procurement no later than 2050, including a Buy Clean policy to promote the use of construction materials with lower embodied emissions;
- A net-zero emissions building portfolio by 2045, including a 50 percent emissions reduction by 2032; and
- Net-zero emissions from overall federal operations by 2050, including a 65 percent emissions reduction by 2030.
National polls of Americans repeatedly record overwhelming support for the President’s policy platform. Nonetheless, 16 months after his inauguration, elected by a margin of nearly 8 million votes more than the defeated former president, the Biden Administration has been denied a vote on its policy platform in the U.S. Senate.
This is not the first president elected to act decisively on climate and energy issues whose policy platform has been blocked from receiving a vote. In fact, the U.S. Senate has blocked a vote on any national climate and energy policy legislation since 2003.