Op/Ed: What Texas can teach America about green energy

The current tenor of the national argument about America's energy future distracts us from a clear realization: Americans, regardless of political affiliation, overwhelmingly value the environment and clean energy.

Don't take our word for it. Polling data show both conservative and more progressively-skewed registered voters enthusiastically back government support of renewables, energy efficiency, and natural gas for electricity generation.

And, it's also clear what divides us: our lack of agreement on the right set of tactics—economic, business, and policy tools - that we can use to achieve our common goals.

We are of the strong opinion that policymakers, influencers, and funders must look beyond regulation- and mandate-heavy approaches exemplified by, say, the state of California. While California has achieved impressive results and has been hailed by some as the model for others to follow, it is certainly not the only way forward. A so-called California approach might have been appropriate under previous administrations, but it is a dissonant distraction under Mr. Trump.

We're concerned that our national debate has overemphasized mandates, and overlooked other powerful means with the potential to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy while also building greater consensus and support in the process.

To continue on this path would be an expensive mistake.

In order to achieve truly sustainable solutions, we should stop focusing on what was or what is, and shift the conversation to "what can be."

As part of that conversation, we're confident that the Trump administration, as well as other key influencers, can find a shining example in the state of Texas—an imperfect model that represents a rational middle on the continuum of clean energy policy that balances well-timed, limited government policy with technology innovation, smart R&D and infrastructure investment, and a strong, competitive market that drives progress toward a clean energy economy.

Led by conservative decision makers and driven by competitive energy markets, Texas's carbon dioxide emissions will fall 28 percent below 2005 levels between 2016 and 2035. These cuts will result in no appreciable increase in real wholesale electricity prices and without loss of reliability, according to a series of studies by The Brattle Group.

Moving forward, the U.S. needs to capture the competitive opportunities of the clean energy economy, as we have done in Texas. Our nation has always had a competitive advantage in creating innovative solutions to complex challenges and exporting them to technology-starved trading partners. Now, via new policy tools, diverse state models, more centrist organizations, and related philanthropic investments, we can launch a new market-driven era of competitiveness that meets the global demand for clean energy technology.

We challenge policy, environmental and philanthropic leaders on both sides of the clean energy continuum to broaden their portfolio of philanthropic investments, open their minds to productive communication, loosen their grip on what defines acceptable energy policy, and engage with others who may not share their own worldview.

A new philanthropic model is needed as well to help move the U.S. toward a sustainable clean energy economy—one that cuts pollution, creates well-paying jobs, preserves grid reliability, and reduces costs for all. We must remember that clean energy is about more than just electricity generation. A true, economy-wide clean energy approach includes the transportation and industrial sectors. We have an opportunity to take what we've learned in the transformation of Texas's electric sector to forge bold progress in these critical industries as well.

We need philanthropists, entrepreneurs, advocates, scientists, and policy-makers from all sides of the political spectrum to join us in a collaborative to identify and activate a roadmap of solutions—based on the Texas model. The U.S. needs a new blueprint to inform, inspire, and advance a more balanced, affordable, and sustainable clean energy economy.

It's time for a different path forward for the United States. Policymakers, influencers, and philanthropists, meet the green state of Texas.

Commentary for CNBC by Trammell S. Crow and Marilu Hastings.


Trammell S. Crow is a Dallas-based private philanthropist and the founder of Earth Day Texas. Follow him on Twitter: @EarthDayTexas.

Marilu Hastings is vice president of the Austin-based Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, where she leads the foundation's land, water, sustainability, and clean energy programs. She is a member of the National Petroleum Council. Follow her on Twitter: @MariluHastings.

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