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A Green Blog Action Day

Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Heather Zichal shares her experience addressing the Business Council for Sustainable Energy about the President's commitment to building a greener economy.

Greetings from Washington. It's a real thrill to see that the worldwide blogosphere is turning its attention to an issue as important as climate change. And it's fitting because this is an issue that has the World and the United States captivated more than at any other time in history. The evidence of such a sea change in public awareness around this issue can be found in this very effort – key governments, including our crucial partners at 10 Downing Street, non-governmental organizations, individuals and stakeholders in the global discussion on climate change are all taking part in historical action around addressing this challenge and seizing the opportunities it presents. A growing consensus in our country is building that the time to forge a new clean energy economy is now. I'm proud to be a part of this movement and proud to share some of my experience with you today.

This morning, I addressed the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, a large group of businesses who, like many of you, understand the imperatives we have to reduce our dependence on oil, cut the carbon pollution that is changing our climate and build the clean energy technologies that will drive global markets for decades to come. This council of businesses represents an important voice in the American discussion on clean energy – one that understands the world's future prosperity must be built with a foundation anchored in sustainability, low-carbon technology and environmental stewardship.

Here's some of what I shared with the group:

President Obama is committed to energy and climate change legislation for the same reasons you have convened this meeting today. Because it will: create jobs; put us back in control and lower our dependence on foreign oil, and lessen the impact of climate change.

That is why our commitment to clean energy has been staid through the nearly ten months we’ve been in office.

We started with a Stimulus that included more than $80 billion in measures to support the development of a new clean energy economy – an economy that will lay a new foundation for our global economic leadership for years to come.

From the President's desk, this Administration has mandated an unprecedented level of leadership and stewardship:

An executive order that commits the U.S. government to lead by example in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing energy efficiency and conservation and reducing consumption. A mandate for more aggressive energy standards for common household appliances. Programs to cut our imports of oil and diversify our energy portfolio – like the one President Obama announced on Earth Day that opens our outer continental shelf to renewable energy development for the first time in history, or the one the President announced a month later that streamlines more stringent fuel economy standards and the first-ever greenhouse gas emissions standards in our cars and trucks. We are laying the groundwork for a future in advanced vehicle technology, and we're building an electric grid that will connect our country's renewable resources to our cities and relieve the congestion that costs us billions of dollars every year. 

And this is a challenge that is being taken seriously outside of government and around the world, too, because people see the economic opportunities taking root.


As we head to Copenhagen, we know that the United States – thanks in large part to your efforts – will bring valuable contributions to the negotiations. In April, President Obama launched the Major Economies Forum (MEF), creating a new dialogue among developed and emerging economies to combat climate change and promote clean energy.

The United States also understands the imperative to create strong one-on-one relationships, through bilateral diplomacy. To this end, the United States is accelerating its collaboration with China, India, the EU, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and other key international partners to combat climate change, coordinate clean energy research and development, and support the international climate talks.

Already, we've had success engaging in global agreements that will make our economies less dependent on oil and our energy portfolios more diverse. For example, reflecting the adverse impacts fossil fuel subsidies have on sustainable development, President Obama led the G20 heads of state in agreeing to phase out these subsidies at the Pittsburgh summit last month. The benefits of taking such action are not academic; we have real-world success stories to show how to effectively reduce fossil fuel subsidies.
Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies worldwide could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions 10-12% by 2050. This reduction represents a significant down payment on the effort needed to reduce global emissions in half by 2050 as the G8 leaders called for in Italy this summer.

If we are to be successful in the global effort to combat climate change, it is because we change the way we grow our economies so that we can still enjoy the fruits of continued development while lowering our greenhouse gas emissions. It is neither politically viable nor economically desirable to sacrifice our economic growth for a smaller carbon footprint. This is true for developed and developing countries alike. Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies is the first smart step we can make along these lines. The second is for us to put a price on carbon.

Pricing carbon throughout the economy creates the incentive for small entrepreneurs and multinational corporations alike to seek out and exploit the lowest cost ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It will spur new investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency, shale gas fields, and technology to capture carbon dioxide from smokestacks before it can enter the atmosphere. By making clean energy investment profitable, putting a price on carbon rewards ingenuity in the business sector.

And on this front, everyone is engaged. And the world is now looking to the U.S. for leadership and guidance.

And because of businesses like yours, I'm confident we will deliver. We will deliver because you are making your voices heard and because you know we cannot sit on the sidelines any longer. You did so in your Open Letter to Congress because you know that business needs certainty and predictability to be successful. You know that market-based incentives are key for stimulating growth. And you know that securing our children’s future prosperity means laying down the pavement of a sustainable path forward today.

That’s why we're listening to you and taking our guidance from the business community. I don’t need to tell you that energy, climate change and our economy are tightly interwoven issues. You know this and because of it you are out in front building the foundations of a new clean energy economy. We are standing at a momentous time in History. It’s a time when we face great challenge; but also historic opportunity.

Let's not let it get away.

Heather Zichal is Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change