Capitol Hill Update: Cleantech Finding a Voice

The Clean Technology and Sustainable Industries Organization (CTSI) organized a “DC Policy Tour for Clean Technology” this month, taking 50 cleantech industry players (representing cleaner coal, solar, wind, nuclear, hydrogen, demand response, water, biomass and fuel cells, plus investors) on a Congressional walk-about. I spoke with Patti Glaza, executive director and CEO, to get her take on the day and the outcomes. After a total of 45 meetings with elected officials from more than 20 states, Ms. Glaza reported that renewable energy tax credit extensions will happen, but only for one year (longer term extensions will most likely come in the next administration) and that climate change legislation will be considered in June, although again it would be surprising to see anything being signed into law prior to the next administration. She also said that both the House and Senate have requested a significant increase in the Dept. of Energy (DOE) budget from what was in the department’s original request, and that more funding should be available than last year. Ms. Glaza added, however, that it was unlikely that the Advance Research Projects Energy (ARPA-E) program that was approved in the America Competes Act last year will get off the ground.  More details from the day can be gleaned from the Q&A below, including tips from Ms. Glaza for how companies, even start-ups, can work with their elected officials to make a bigger difference at the Federal level.

Q: Any humorous moments from the tour?

A: We learned to never let a tour member tell a Republican official that we should pay for the renewable energy tax extensions with funding for the Iraq war.

Q: Who did you visit and get traction with?

A: The primary focus of the meetings was with members of the Appropriations and Ways & Means Committees as Congress is currently finalizing agency budgets and funding programs slated for this fiscal year. We also targeted the Science & Technology, Small Business, Energy Independence & Global Warming, and Energy & Commerce committees and subcommittees, in addition to several executive-level meetings at the DOE. The highlight was Sen. Byron Dorgan (ND) who leads the Democratic Policy Committee and sits on key committees including Appropriations; Commerce, Science & Transportation, and Committee on Energy & Natural Resources. Sen. Dorgan and his staff took a significant amount of time with our group and showed real interest and knowledge of the challenges the sector faces.    There are a lot of champions on the Hill and we need help in reaching out to all of them. Congressmen that took the time to meet with the tour directly included: Tom UdallVito FossellaDale KildeePhil EnglishJay Inslee, and Dorgan. Additional offices showing high-level support included: Cantwell, Clinton, McNerney, Barrow, Capuano, and Candace Miller.

Q: It seems there is a scarcity of coordinated government relations work being done on the part of the cleantech industry. Is that an accurate read on the situation?

A: My initial assessment is that as an industry or sector, clean technology has not had strong representation in Washington DC. Inslee made the comment that he has been waiting for a group like CTSI and is glad we have started our efforts. That being said, there is strong government relations work being done for specific clean technology segments, solar, wind, and biofuels being examples. The role CTSI is trying to fill is to advocate for policies and programs that address the complexity and interrelated issues of energy, water, and the environment. Renewable energy needs smart grid needs cleaner base load generation needs distributed generation support needs water management/reduction, etc.

It was obvious from our meetings that the Hill is extremely receptive to a sector they see as providing new jobs, energy security/independence, and increasing the US global competitiveness. Regardless of the group organizing, a broad technology platform is essential. Industry has to be seen as working together on solving the bigger issues (growing energy demand, climate change, etc.) and not just advocating for specific industry segments in isolation.

Q: How can companies make a difference on the national level?

A: I see three immediate ways that organizations can make a difference:

- Companies need to take the time to educate their local representatives on their companies, technologies, and how they are working to solve the larger issues.

- Executives need to participate in Washington DC based meetings to emphasize the important role policy and regulation play in developing the clean technology sector. Nothing grabs attention like a company telling their representative that they expect to start laying off workers in June/July because the renewable tax credits haven’t been extended.

- Overall, companies need to recognize that policy isn’t just for the big players. Policy and regulations have and will have a significant impact on the rate of development and adoption of clean technologies, and growing technology companies need to be at the table when those policies and regulations are being created. Yes, resources are limited. Yes, policy is complicated and difficult to understand. Thus the role of policy and trade organizations.