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Opinion: “Build Back Better” with a Clean-Energy Economy, by Governor Ritter

Posted August 4, 2021, on

The U.S. Congress has an opportunity this summer to seize an unprecedented, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to “build back better” from the pandemic.

Colorado U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and our Colorado delegation in the House of Representatives should all vote yes on and champion an infrastructure bill and budget reconciliation bill that center investments in a national clean energy economy while also battling climate change and ending environmental injustice. Together, these two bills are the jolt needed to jump-start Colorado and our nation into a new, post-pandemic economy.

We must see ambitious action on climate and investments because these will lead to a more vibrant, more equitable economy and end the economic upheaval that impacts the communities on the front lines of climate disasters.

I personally know that we can build back better by stubbornly focusing on developing a clean energy economy because we have been here before, we have seen it happen in Colorado, and we continue to reap the benefits.

I became governor just over 14 years ago, having run in part on the promise to build a New Energy Economy. The work we did from 2007 to 2010 — tripling the state’s renewable portfolio standard, recruiting clean tech businesses and passing dozens of bills designed to incentivize new ways to provide power — laid the groundwork for Colorado to become a model for others to follow.

Then we were hit by the Great Recession. From late 2008 into 2009, as the economy spiraled deeper into recession, we scrambled to stabilize Colorado’s budget and economy, not knowing where the bottom was or when we would hit it. At the same time, we were working with the incoming Obama administration to develop a rescue package that would stabilize the nation’s economy and set the state for growth.

When President Obama, with then-Vice President Joe Biden at his side, signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science on Feb. 17, 2009 — after touring the solar panels on the museum’s roof — we knew that brighter days were ahead.

ARRA included critically important investments in transportation, airports, broadband, water systems, housing, education and research facilities. It also included billions for energy efficiency and renewable energy, alternative fuels and fuel cells.

Combined with continued action here in Colorado — a total of 57 New Energy Economy related bills were signed into law during my service as governor — ARRA helped lead us to where we are today: robust and reliable wind and solar powering our homes and businesses, tens of thousands of Coloradans working in clean tech industries, taking meaningful action on decarbonization, showing the world what can be done and how.

Colorado’s commitment to electric vehicles, building electrification, renewable energy jobs and decarbonization remains a model for other states.

This summer and fall, our members of Congress should prioritize the development of a 100% clean-energy standard in the electricity sector; the manufacture and sale of zero-emitting cars, buses and buildings by 2035; justice and equity for low-income communities and communities of color by ensuring at least 40% of investment benefits go to these communities; and creating good paying, family-sustaining, unionized jobs.

The beauty of these proposals is that they take on myriad challenges at once — the climate crisis, economic opportunity for all, the need to strengthen the middle class, a long overdue overhaul of our infrastructure, and the need to position America for global leadership once again.

In the wake of the Great Recession, Colorado showed the country what was possible with the right mix of sound policy ideas, private sector innovation, bipartisan commitment, and federal government investment.

In the wake of COVID-19, we can “build back better” on the foundation we laid a dozen years ago. We have a partner in the White House and need supporters in Congress who share our state’s commitment to transforming our economy in a forward-looking and equitable way.

Bill Ritter, Jr. served as Colorado governor 2007-2011. He is now director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University.

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