The day after September 11, 2001, the French newspaper, Le Monde, ran a headline that read: “We are all Americans.” As I sat watching the ceremonies marking the 20th Anniversary, I couldn’t help but think, “We are all Americans, again.”
Yes, we will go back to arguing about politics, culture, climate and everything else that seemingly divides us, but for one day, I felt that miracle of 9/11 again—the way unity emerges from tragedy. And I want to keep that feeling. I’m greedy for it.
More than ever, as I survey the landscape of energy policy in this country, I am reminded how partisanship distracts us from pursuing sound, market-based solutions to ongoing and emerging problems. One side doesn’t have all the answers; but together, through compromise and respect, we can build an energy future that is sustainable, cleaner, and profitable for all. But we must hold within us the spirit of 9/11 and remember that we are all Americans working toward a common goal.
The summer after 9/11, I was interning for Hart Energy’s Chemical Week in New York City. Our New York University dorm was two blocks from Ground Zero and within walking distance to our office on Wall Street. Every day, I passed the still devastated holes that once were filled with the Twin Towers. At work, I learned about the industry that I now love, but I also witnessed the changing nature of news, and tendency that digital media has in pushing consumers into their partisan echo chambers. Little did I know that this was only the beginning of what would eventually destroy the unity that came from 9/11.
The following year, I joined my Texas friends in Washington, D.C., who had taken jobs with the Bush administration and started my career in the renewable industry with an office on the same block as the White House. We had hired a natural gas executive to lead our small solar trade association and, by 2005, we were working with both Republicans and Democrats to reduce our dependence on foreign oil with solar manufacturing in the U.S., including BP‘s facility just north in Maryland.
At the time, American-made solar panels were competing with German, Japanese and Chinese manufacturers. It was an exciting time, as companies competed both domestically and internationally in this new energy space. We were creating jobs at new plants in Arizona, Michigan, Massachusetts and Tennessee. We were supporting our troops in Afghanistan by shipping portable solar chargers for remote and transportable power generation. With the arrival of hydraulic fracturing technology, America’s oil and gas business exploded, and for the first time in history, the U.S. was actually exporting natural gas abroad.
Such comity and technology innovation among both Republicans and Democrats, progressives and conservatives, underscored the shared interest we all had in building an energy future that severed America’s dependence on foreign oil, created thousands of good jobs and led to a cleaner environment.
The discussions in Washington, D.C., over the next few weeks will be critical to the future of the energy industry. Our nation has an opportunity to build the framework in policy and accelerate the fight against climate change by building upon the many years of innovation, economic prosperity and national security already established.
As the proposed energy policy and funding are debated these next few weeks through reconciliation, the opportunity for carbon capture technology and solutions and Direct Pay tax incentives across energy investments should find a middle ground on policy to set the potential for a new energy industry and boom that we can all benefit from over the next many decades.
We have room for tax incentives for carbon capture, changes to outdated tax policy for renewables with direct pay, the creation of exponential new market opportunities for the oil and gas industry and the future of the energy transition.
Energy executives and leaders can reach across the aisle to build a more prosperous, sustainable, and resilient energy economy, critical for the scale, speed, and impact necessary to fight climate change, unite a divided country and provide reliable power for all.
Emily Easley is CEO of NOVUS Energy Advisors, an independent consulting firm offering strategic services across the energy and cleantech industries.
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