In a keynote address at the National Clean Energy Summit, former President Bill Clinton recounted a visit to BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah solar power plant at which he observed many of the 370-megawatt project’s all-union construction crew to be both enthusiastic about renewable energy -- and visibly tattooed.
“The more people with visible tattoos who advocate for clean energy,” President Clinton said, “the more success it will have in Washington.” And, he added, “You win the tattooed vote and we’ll have the damnedest environmental policy anybody ever saw.”
United Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard is a man who has been familiar with that voting block since before visible tattoos were trendy.
“I’m fundamentally angry,” Gerard said during a break at the Summit. “I’m angry at the Republican Party. I’m angry specifically at Mitt Romney. They’ve managed to ignore, for some very narrow self-interest, what’s good for the country.”
The Obama administration and the Democrats, Gerard said, “were moving in the right direction on renewable energy standards and a renewable energy future. The President was talking about an all-in energy strategy. Then, the Republicans have stopped the renewable energy standard. And they stopped incentives.”
Gerard was thinking about November. “This election is going to be very important, because,” he said, “one thing I have learned is that R&D investment follows manufacturing. When you see the Chinese and others going full-bore on renewable energy, you know that is where the R&D investment is going. It’s like we’ve been stopped dead in our tracks.”
He turned to the fate of the wind industry since it became clear the Republican-led House will block the extension of wind’s vital production tax credit. “To the best of my knowledge, there is no meaningful order for wind turbines for 2013,” Gerard said, his anger rising. “We represented a thousand workers at Gamesa. They’re laid off -- all but a skeleton crew. That was a blooming industry. And we were working with a group that wants to develop wind on the Great Lakes, helping them to develop a domestic supply chain. That’s stalled.”
But it is not just wind and solar that suffered from Republican obstruction, he said. “We should be doing industrial-scale retrofitting. Sixty percent of our schools are more than 50 years old. If you had a long-term program of helping our school districts retrofit the oldest schools, schools that were built in 1990 could be scheduled for retrofitting in 2030. People would be investing in R&D. They would be investing in equipment.”
He paused and reflected. “Where am I? I’m very pissed off. I’m not pissed off at the President and I’m not pissed off at Democrats.”
Republicans have been sincere, Gerard acknowledged. “They have been sincere in holding the country up for ransom and trying to stop any progress, just so they can say, ‘See, the President didn’t deliver.’ They say the President hasn't worked in a bipartisan way. But you can’t work in a bipartisan way with somebody who wants to stick a knife in your back every time you open your mouth.”