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Many GOP Governors Press Ahead with Green Economic Policies, Study Shows

Among the nearly 30 states that recently enacted new clean economy policies, more than half have been Republican governors.

Feb 16, 2012
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer

The nation's Republican governors are pressing forward with policies that promote the green economy—and in some cases they have moved further than their Democratic counterparts.

A new report by the National Governors Association (NGA) showed that 28 states enacted more than 60 new "clean" economic development policies between June 2010 and Aug. 2011. Among those states, more than half, or 16, have Republican governors. In five of the states, the policies were started under Democratic governors and were continued by Republicans who replaced them.

State efforts have almost always focused on propelling demand for renewable energy, but clean economic development goes far beyond this, by trying to build local supply chains to meet America's growing demand for clean power. Policies include tax breaks for renewable energy manufacturers, grants for cleantech startups and training programs for green jobs.

Though relatively new, every state except Georgia, Montana, Rhode Island and Wyoming has passed at least one clean development policy, according to NGA, which has published a rundown of states' green energy activities on a biannual basis since July 2008. All together the group has identified nearly 250 such programs across the country.

The NGA findings offer a sharp contrast to the debate in Washington and on the presidential campaign trail, said Joshua Freed, a climate specialist with the centrist Third Way. "The discussions that governors are having in virtually every state are, 'How do we pursue clean energy?' The debate in Washington, driven by the House majority, is whether we should pursue clean energy at all," he said in an interview.

Freed said the difference can be explained by the fact that governors are more directly responsible than Congressional policymakers for providing business opportunities and boosting employment in their states—and they're blamed more by voters if they fail to do so. 

With the economy still struggling—and with think tanks quantifying the economic impacts of the clean economy for the first time— more and more governors are considering green growth to drive economic revival and innovation. "That's why we've seen ... clean energy policies being implemented in all 50 states," Freed said. Currently, 30 states have Republican governors.

The report, which was released on Feb. 1, found that every state enacted some type of renewable energy and energy efficiency policy in the 14 months between June 2010 and Aug. 2011, such as energy-savings targets for government buildings and tax breaks for installing solar panels.

Sue Gander, director of NGA's environment, energy and transportation division, said the findings show a continuation of a trend. "What we saw across the board is a pretty high level of activity, consistent with what we've seen in past years."

A closer look, however, reveals a more nuanced picture, especially of Republican governors' support of green initiatives. Several have had to strike a balance between demands of conservative voters reluctant to boost state-sponsored clean energy spending and their states' economic needs.

Arizona: Brewer Dumps Cap and Trade, Solar Subsidies a 'No-Brainer'

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a conservative Republican, has both repealed and expanded the clean energy policies of her Democratic predecessor, Janet Napolitano, who resigned after being appointed U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security in 2009.

In February 2010, Brewer pulled Arizona out of the Western Climate Initiative's cap-and-trade program. Sticking to her party's line, Brewer said cap and trade would impose higher costs on businesses and would place Arizona at a competitive disadvantage compared with its neighbors. Congressional Republicans have vilified cap and trade as "cap and tax."

Last month the state withdrew from California's Advanced Clean Car program, which would have required Arizona to put thousands of electric cars and other zero-emissions vehicles on its roads, citing a lack of public charging stations to support a roll-out of the cars. Environmentalists and the state's electric car startups chided the decision.

But, notably, since taking office Brewer hasn't abandoned tax breaks and other state subsidies to nurture Arizona's booming solar sector.

The economic benefits are too alluring, said Matthew Benson, a spokesperson for the governor's office. The industry has helped breathe life into the state's stagnant economy, which in 2011 created more jobs than it lost for the first time since 2007, according to state employment data.

"It's really a no-brainer to try and do everything we can to encourage solar companies to locate in the state," Benson said.

Arizona now ranks third in solar jobs, behind California and Colorado, according to a recent study by The Solar Foundation, a nonprofit group. In 2011, about 980 solar manufacturers, installers and vendors in Arizona employed 4,800 people, up from 3,800 jobs and 230 companies in 2010.

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