It’s the environment, stupid

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By Elisa Wood

October 22, 2009

If Harry Truman were running for president today, he’d probably ‘Give ‘em Green,’ rather than ‘Give ‘em Hell.’ Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan would be, ‘It’s the environment, stupid.’ And Herbert Hoover might be promising a solar panel on every roof, rather than a chicken in every pot – and the pot would sit on a smart-metered stove, powered by a plug-in hybrid, eligible for renewable energy certificates.

Today, green credentials count. Hardly a day goes by without a mayor, governor or legislator claiming some sort of first, best or highest green energy goal.

That’s why the state energy efficiency scorecard, released this week by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, is significant. It carries political currency.

Bragging rights go to California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Oregon and New York,* the top five states (in that order) doing good by energy efficiency.  Some red faces, however, might be found in Nebraska, Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Wyoming, the group that ACEEE says “most needs to improve.”

States are expected to continue their pursuit of energy efficiency into the next decade. The ACEEE reports that utility ratepayer-funds for efficiency will likely grow from $3.1 billion in 2008 to $5.4-$12 billion in 2020.

What’s most interesting is that so much money and effort is being put into energy efficiency now – during the Great Recession – when states face deficits. This defies conventional behavior: Historically, Americans worry about the environment only when the economy is sound.  It appears that green energy advocates have successfully imprinted in the American psyche a link between renewable energy and efficiency and economic prosperity.

“This growing and deepening commitment to energy efficiency is so strong that the current recession has not put a dent in the vast majority of state programs,” says Steven Nadel, ACEEE executive director. “And that is for good reason:  Energy efficiency is the only resource that can actually reduce energy consumption while growing the economy — making efficiency the ‘first fuel’ states can use to balance their energy portfolios.”

So we find ourselves in a kinder, greener nation, one with no electric meter left behind, where we walk softly and carry a big wind tower…

*At about the same time the ACEEE released the report, New York announced plans to shift Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative money, slated for clean energy programs, toward reducing its deficit. This may have reduced New York’s ranking in the eyes of the environmental community.

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.