States Catalyzing the Clean Energy Movement

One gubernatorial candidate climbed a wind turbine to show her commitment to clean energy -- and then signed an executive order pledging to take climate action when she was elected to office. Another state leader declared his state would race to 100 percent clean energy as he raced into office -- and in one of his first acts as governor, joined the U.S. Climate Alliance to uphold the goals of the Paris Agreement.

In 2019, governors are leading the charge to accelerate a clean energy economy. Inevitably, we will get there -- and as these governors make good on their promises, they need to be sure our transition is one that’s equitable and just.

States and local communities are making the progress that’s emblematic of our times: already, California, Hawaii, and over 100 cities across the country have committed to move beyond fossil fuels to 100 percent clean, renewable energy. Today, states are in a race to the top -- and setting a finish line where we all win.

Take New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, wind turbine climber, who knows that clean energy means healthier communities, clearer skies, and economic prosperity. After she signed the executive order joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, state legislators followed her lead: Just this month, the “Energy Transition Act” was introduced in the state senate. The legislation would move the state to 100 percent carbon-free energy and provide workforce training, economic development for communities affected by retiring coal-fired plants, and other community investments -- in addition to a fossil-fuel–free future for New Mexicans. The fastest-growing job in ten states is a solar installer or wind technician (in NM, it’s the former).

Governor Lujan Grisham is one of at least 11 US governors currently in office who support a transition to clean, renewable energy -- and New Mexico is one of four states that could pass major clean energy legislation in 2019. At this point, 100 percent clean, renewable energy is a litmus test for any leader who’s looking to take climate action. But to ensure that a just and equitable clean energy transition creates a better energy economy by fixing the racial and economic injustices of the current system, our leaders will need to work from the bottom up, listening to and learning from the solutions and insights of the people in their communities, who know best what the future needs to look like.

And why shouldn’t they? Clean, renewable energy is here now and is key to building a country that works for everyone. Wind and solar are safer, cleaner, and now cheaper than dirty, climate-disrupting sources like coal and gas.

A Green New Deal, the bold effort to transform our economy by addressing inequality and climate change, is taking Washington, DC, by storm -- and it’s already alive and well in states and cities across the US because local leaders can see firsthand the necessity and opportunity for ambitious climate action. Washington governor Jay Inslee put it this way: “We know what it will take to combat climate change and we should be confident in our ability to invent, create and build the technologies that will lead us to a healthier and more secure carbon-free future.” Washington state legislators are putting the governor’s vision to work in a bill that will move the state to 100 percent clean energy, which is making its way through the state legislature now.

As states and governors will continue to show, we’re living in an age of unprecedented energy around climate action. Governors are perfectly situated to make meaningful strides toward building the healthy, thriving communities we all want -- with a stroke of their pens, they can sign executive orders, pass state policy, appoint energy commissioners, and lead the vision for a state’s future. Ten of the 11 governors who support 100 percent renewable energy are in states where the legislature is controlled by their own party, and these administrations are poised to make massive progress.

With so much potential, what are these states leaders to do first?

In many cases, they could just follow the lead of their constituents. In Colorado, nine cities -- including Denver, Fort Collins, and Pueblo -- have committed to 100 percent renewable energy, showing there’s plenty of public demand for newly elected governor Jared Polis to set a statewide goal and engage municipalities in the process. These states could also take a page from California’s book. Last year, the Golden State became the second to commit to transitioning entirely to renewables. The success of California’s SB100 shows that states win when leaders listen to their residents and fight for clean air, a stronger economy, a healthy climate, and a more just and equitable energy system for all.

While the Trump administration insists on dismantling climate change and clean energy policies, this gubernatorial class shows that states are accelerating leadership that’s moving the nation away from dirty fuels.

The fossil fuel industry is yielding to both grassroots pressure and economic reality. When our leaders step up and commit to 100 percent clean energy, they help us onto the best path for consumers, workers, and communities to accelerate this inevitable transition.

Governor Pritzker made this clear in the text of his executive order: “The transition to a clean energy economy has already begun, and Illinois will be left behind if we do not move forward.”

The Sierra Club has worked tirelessly over the last decade to combat coal and gas projects and to inspire cities to go all in on clean energy, and we’ll continue this work until we’re at 100 percent clean, renewable energy across the country. What we’ve seen is that communities are leading states, and states can lead the nation.

Statehouses are the engines powering the renewable revolution -- and with each new day, governors, and community leaders are helping us get that much closer to a country where everyone enjoys clean, renewable energy. Are you ready? Join the movement for 100 percent clean, renewable energy now.

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