Citizens Guide: Strategies for Action

Citizens Guide to Sustainable Energy

From vision to transition

America's future depends on a successful vision and transition to new practices, policies, programs, products and lifestyles based on sustainable energy strategies from the national to the regional and local governmental levels, as well as at the household and neighborhood level involving citizens in their roles as responsible consumers/customers, workers, voters, and members of families and communities. It also means national participation in international policy discussions and agreements and plans at the global level.

Achieving such strategies calls upon each of us to become better informed, to engage in these discussions and to take what steps we find necessary.

National energy strategies

One of the big debates taking place in the presidential and congressional campaigns of 2008 was on the best national energy strategy for America. On the one hand there was the GOP's McCain-Palin energy plan, dubbed the "Lexington Project." On the other there was the Obama-Biden plan, or "New Energy for America." In contrast to the previous administration, both candidates acknowledged the critical need to take significant steps to address climate change.

In mid-2009, the new Obama Administration and the democratically-led Congress agree that the country needs to break its addiction to fossil fuels, to become energy independent and self-sufficient, to significantly increase the share of renewable energy sources in the nation's energy mix, to reduce national carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, and to take a much stronger approach to addressing the challenge of climate change.

Yet it is the details on how these objectives are achieved that underlies the controversies and debates now taking place in developing a national energy strategy and plan. One basic but complicated question is: Will the US develop a truly sustainable energy strategy? Or will we instead see a strategy hampered by compromise and constraints improsed by powerful industry interests and loyalties to the old ways of business?

To answer this question first requires a clear understanding of what is meant by "sustainable energy" and what kinds of strategies and methods are available and being considered as part of a sustainable energy strategy. We then need to look at each of the strategies and methods being proposed and consider their various strengths and weaknesses, and to what degree these contribute to or undermine sustainability.


Obama highlights cap-and-trade as one of the primary mechanisms for addressing climate change. The cap and trade system requires a 100 percent auction of air pollution credits, ensuring that coal, oil and other companies pay for the emissions they release. The revenue from this system would then be invested in development and deployment of clean energy technologies, energy efficiency improvements, and subsidies to aid low-income families with their energy costs. McCain also favors cap and trade, which his campaign describes as a system that "harnesses human ingenuity in the pursuit of alternatives to carbon-based fuels."

Supporting the views of the US Climate Action CoalitionEnvironmental Defense's Nathaniel Keohane, claims "cap and trade is the most environmentally sound approach and its' the only politically viable approach."(New York Times, Nov. 2, 2007.) Other groups, like Friends of the Earth, raise concerns about the monitoring, evaluation and verification of carbon credits in a global market. "Unfortunately," they warn, "federal cap and trade proposals put forth so far would create a system that poses almost identical challenges as those in the mortage-lending industry."Here are some other views and information about cap and trade:emissions trade, Wikipedia 

Cap and trade essentials, EPAFactsheet on subprime carbon-offsets and lessons from the credit crisis, Friends of the Earth 

Cap and trade
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), August 25, 2008 

Letting cap and trade work
Washington Post, May 30, 2008 

Why cap and trade could backfire
Christian Science Monitor, July 16 2008 

Cap and trade: Why it's tax and spend
New York Post, June 2, 2008 

Environmentalists raise concerns about cap and trade
North County Times, February 24, 2008 

Cap and trade 101: What is cap and trade, and how can we implement it successfully?
Center for American Progress, Jan. 16, 2008

Beware of cap and trade climate bills
Heritage Foundation, Dec. 6, 2007 

Strange bedfellows in climate politics
Grist, May 22, 2007 

Cap and trade success story
Environmental Defense Fund, Feb. 12, 2007

Cap and trade vs. tax
Pew Center on Global Climate Change, July 12, 2007

Carbon tax

Contrasted with the strategy of cap and trade is the carbon tax, in which the carbon content of fuels (oil, coal, natural gas) is taxed, thus essentially imposing a tax on the carbon dioxide emissions influcing global warming. This would of course raise the costs of fossil fuels, especially coal. Proponents argue that the revenues from the tax could be used to offset energy hardships experienced by low-income households. Of course "taxes" is politically charged and difficult to sell.What is a carbon tax?
Carbon Tax Center, Oct. 1, 2008 

Tax vs. cap and trade
Carbon Tax Center, July 1, 2008 - Gives six reasons why a carbon tax is superior to cap and trade.

The real climate debate: To cap or tax?
New York Times, Nov. 2, 2007

Federal government policy

National Energy Policy , Report of the National Energy Policy Development Group (White House, May 2001)US Dept of Energy - What the Energy Policy Act of 2005 means to youThe national energy policy , testimony to House Government Reform Committee, Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs by George Sterzinger, Renewable Energy Policy Project (June 17, 2002) [PDF]Washington State University - Energy Policy Act of 2005: Links to news and analysis

Civil society views

American Energy: The Renewable Path to Energy Security (Worldwatch, 2006)American Energy Vision Statement (Center for American Progress, 2006)Clean Energy Blueprint: A Smarter National Energy Policy for Today and the Future (Union of Concerned Scientists, October 2001) [PDF, 52 pages]Challenge and Opportunity: Charting a New Energy Future (Energy Future Coalition) [PDF, 129 pages]Common Sense: Making the Transition to a Sustainable Energy Economy , Joel Stromberg (American Solar Energy Society, May 2005) [PDF, 40 pages]Confronting Climate Change: Averting a Global Environmental Crisis (Globa Green USA, 2002) [PDF, 4 pages]On the Road to Energy Security : Implementing a Comprehensive Energy Strategy, A Status Report (DOE, 2005)Rocky Mountain Institute - National Energy Policy InitiativeStablizing Climate , from Plan B.20 Rescuing a Planet Under Stress, Lester Brown (Earth Policy Institute, 2006) [PDF, 22 pages]


American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy - Possible new federal energy legislation in 2006Energy Policy Act of 2005 (August 8, 2005) [PDF, 551 pages]Jeffords-Boxer Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act , Senate Bill S.3698, submitted to (July 20, 2006) [PDF, 70 pages]Waxman Safe Climate Act of 2006 , H.R. 5242 (June 20, 2006) [PDF, 20 pages]Wikipedia - Energy Policy Act of 2005

Local energy strategies

Community Development Through Climate Solutions: Los Angeles and Beyond (Global Green, 2006) [PDF, 21 pages]

State energy strategies

Alliance to Save Energy - State energy efficiency indexNational Association of State Energy Officials -Rocky Mountain Institute - Creating a balanced state energy policyCalifornia Energy Commission -Utah State Energy PolicyWisconsin League of Women Voters - State energy policyUS Dept of Energy - State roles

Energy and Climate Change

In the United States, as in other parts of the world, citizens are increasingly concerned about the threats to our future posed by climate change and our addiction to fossil fuels. In turn, many US citizens recognize the need to take responsibility for ourselves and our country in transforming the ways we produce and consume energy -- in our households, communities, regions and nation.