A group of national-security hawks who view the Clean Energy Act as critical to shoring up national defense say they’re determined not to allow the legislation to be pigeonholed as strictly environmental law. They say they’re taking their message across the country to voting districts where constituents rate national security a high priority but where there remains significant opposition to the act — and Colorado could be ground zero for the campaign.
For these hawks, the American Clean Energy and Security Act sponsored by Democratic U.S. Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts marks a first step toward a long-promised new era of national defense, one characterized by freedom from dependence on foreign oil. It is crucial, they believe, that the country not turn back on the road toward energy independence again, as it has been for decades, and that debate of the larger subject isn’t therefore poisoned this year by political gamesmanship.
Colorado could be Ground Zero for the campaign. With its vast natural resources, expanding new-energy economy and large military presence, Colorado is a state where both environmental and defense issues are intensely and practically felt. It’s also a fact that the Clean Energy Act split the state delegation in Washington, four votes to three, with Democratic Rep. John Salazar surprising supporters by joining Republicans Mike Coffman and Doug Lamborn in voting against it.
Even though Colorado’s Democratic U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall seem sure to support the Act, the debate surrounding it here has already grown intense, fodder for local political attacks and for the threat of national political attacks.
State Republican Party head Dick Wadhams attacked Fourth District Democratic Rep. Betsy Markey for supporting the Act immediately upon learning of her vote in support of it. The National Republican Congressional Committee caused a mediasphere stir by describing Markey’s vote as a “career killer” and by announcing it would use the vote to drumbeat her and other swing-district Democrats out of office.
But on a press call last week organized by Americans United for Change, spokespersons for the pro-Clean Energy Act national-security group– including former Deputy National Security Advisor Donald L. Kerrick, U.S. Rep. and Air Force Reserve Major John Boccieri, D-Ohio, Iraq War veteran and Co-Founder of VoteVets.org Jon Soltz and Iraq War veteran and Operating Officer of the Truman National Security Project Jonathan Powers — praised Markey and made their case for why voters here should follow her lead.
Although the Clean Energy Act squeaked through the House last month with only eight Republican votes, Boccieri told the Colorado Independent that the partisanship and rancor characterizing the debate is unwarranted and misguided.
“Every GOP candidate last year talked about oil and foreign entanglements,” Boccieri said. “They all said moving toward energy independence was crucial. They all supported the idea at the time.”
It was nearly one year ago that GOP presidential nominee John McCain unveiled an energy plan he called the “Lexington Project,” the main thrust of which was to achieve energy independence for security reasons sooner rather than later.
“[The plan] is named for the town where Americans asserted their independence once before,” McCain explained. “Let it begin today with this commitment: In a world of hostile and unstable suppliers of oil, this nation will achieve strategic independence by 2025.”
McCain was looking to build early bipartisan support for the plan, including the support of big business.
“Much will be asked of industry as well– as automakers and others adapt to this great turn toward new sources of power,” he said. “A great deal will depend on each one of us, as we learn to make smarter use of energy, and also to draw on the best ideas of both parties, and work together for the common good.”
Now that a plan has been placed on the table, however, it is clear how difficult it will be to generate that kind of support.
In Colorado, so far, Markey has been largely alone in referring at all to the national security implications of the Clean Energy Act.
Mostly it has been viewed through the lens of its economic impacts.
In explaining his no vote on the Act, Salazar explained that the “cost to consumers in the bill is highest for those living in rural America, particularly in a district like Colorado’s Third,” which is Salazar’s Western Slope district. He said he hoped he would get the chance to vote on an updated-version of the Act.
Fifth District Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn was not as subtle. He said he was happy to vote against the “Democrat cap-and-tax plan” and is pushing instead the GOP’s American Energy Act, which promotes development of clean coal, nuclear power and oil shale technology.
“Democrats rushed a cap-and-trade bill through the House that is essentially a national energy tax,” he said. He calls the bill a “job killer” and argues that now, as businesses limp through the recession, is the worst time to levy taxes for the sake of preventing climate change.
Largest energy tax ever
But Boccieri emphasizes that there is always a good reason not to wean America off of Middle Eastern oil.
“The largest energy tax we have had in the last decade has been the war in Iraq. We wouldn’t be there if not for oil… In the 1970s, people were standing in line for oil. We didn’t act. Today 60 percent of the oil we consume comes from foreign sources.”
Truman National Security Project officer and Iraq war veteran Jonathan Powers offered his ground-level perspective.
“This is not just about the future. This is about saving lives. Seventy percent of the [U.S. military] convoys running in Afghanistan and Iraq are carrying fuel in water. Why don’t we have all solar-power generators in Iraq?”
Pressed on economic issues, Boccieri agreed that new-energy jobs won’t replace the industrial-era 10,000-employee manufacturing operations of the past. Those jobs are gone anyway, he said. He pointed to windmill production in Ohio as major technological and precise business endeavors.
“Green jobs by comparison are small manufacturing. But 250 jobs here and 500 jobs there. That’s how we’ll rebuild this economy.
“To be clear,” said Iraq war veteran Jon Soltz, “The sun never sets on the U.S. military. We’re in all four corners of the planet. It’s not sustainable. We have to take these steps, make these decisions now… This is the first bill we’ve seen in Congress that works at all toward energy independence.”
The group says it’s working to build a national coalition and pointed interested voters to PolicyMatters, an Ohio economic development website for more information.