Local Commentary

Senator Whipple’s Richmond Report


The “White House Clean Energy Economy Forum” was held this week at the new LEED-certified Washington-Lee High School, not at the White House. Similar events are taking place around the country in the next few weeks.

A stellar cast of speakers came: Governor Kaine was the host; Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar was the featured speaker; other panelists were the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Agriculture; Assistant Secretary of the Department of Energy; Congressman Gerry Connolly; and Former Virginia Senator John Warner.

Among the approximately 250 members of the audience were students from Washington-Lee in the International Baccalaureate program; representatives of businesses and environmental groups; and a smattering of elected officials like me.

Secretary Salazar stressed green job creation, energy independence and efforts to stop sending jobs and wealth overseas. He gave some sobering examples of climate change: no glaciers in Glacier National Park by 2020; the loss soon of a million acres of wildlife refuges He made a resounding statement of the administration’s strong commitment to renewable energy.

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan pointed out that agriculture and forestry are climate dependent, and at the same time can be major contributors to reducing carbon emissions The Department’s analysis shows there will be a net gain for farmers as any additional costs will be offset by selling credits. Overall any increase in food prices will be miniscule.

Assistant Secretary Cathy Zoi, who is responsible for the areas of energy efficiency and conservation at the Department of Energy, reminded us that more than $200 million has come to Virginia in stimulus funds for energy reduction, especially weatherization that will retrofit 9000 homes, and is already creating jobs. Private companies in Virginia are at the forefront of technology and universities such as Virginia Tech are conducting research in such areas as organic photovoltaics.

Congressman Connolly reminded people that “cap and trade” has been used very successfully in the past. It worked well in the United States for the acid rain problem and for eliminating the ozone hole.

Senator John Warner rose to speak, saying that he had spent so many years in the Senate that “I can only speak when standing.” He talked about the national security aspects of energy and climate change.

Governor Kaine then moderated the Q&A session, giving the first opportunities for questions to the high school students. Not surprisingly they had some good questions, including asking Senator Warner what it would take to get members of his political party to take this issue seriously. Another student had a very perceptive question about battery storage as an impediment to the full use of intermittent renewable energy.

There were many questions and good observations from the panelists; the time ran out before all the questions could be asked, as hands were rising from all over the audience. It’s clear that energy issues are important to many and should be important to all.

Senator Whipple represents the 31st District in the Virginia State Senate. She may be e-mailed at district31@sov.state.va.us