Local communities across the United States are driving America's environmental agenda. Three hundred city mayors in 46 states have signed an agreement to reduce the industrial greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming. Twenty-eight states have climate action plans. Support for a new energy future is gathering momentum in Washington as well, but it's outside the halls of Congress.
On a grassy patch of land in the middle of the University of the District of Columbia campus stand a solar array, a wind turbine and a water tank. While they don't power anything on this sunny and windy day, they are a symbol of things to come like the new visitor's center planned for this very spot.
The center will generate energy from wind turbines, solar voltaic panels and other clean technologies. With that dream less than a year away, UDC's Samuel Lakeou motions to the water tank behind him. He says the 3,028-liter tank with submersible pump can draw water from a depth of about 61 meters. Lakeou, director of the school's Center for Excellence in Renewable Energy, says this is an affordable system that can have an impact far beyond the UDC campus. "In other countries, a combination like this can provide clean potable water for a community of almost 5,000 people. And, the impact that it has on reducing poverty is tremendous."
Joining Lakeou in the shadow of the water tank is Kate Johnson, spokesperson for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a grassroots advocacy organization. Johnson is here to support UDC's renewable energy program and to promote U.S. PIRG's national energy-saving campaign. Juggling an armload of environmentally friendly home products, she delivers her consumer message. She says saving energy can start with something as simple as changing a light bulb. "Lighting consumption accounts for 9% of the electricity used in American homes. If every American home replaced its standard incandescent light bulbs with energy efficient light bulbs like these compact fluorescents, we could cut the electricity we use to light our homes in half."
Johnson dispenses other energy-saving advice. "We can easily use weather sealant tape to insulate doors and windows, and we could also install programmable thermostats that save energy by automatically turning off heat and air conditioning when you are not home."
Just days before U.S. Congressional elections, U.S. PIRG is campaigning for a new energy future. Its 4-point agenda calls for candidates to support policies that reduce oil consumption, save energy, increase renewable energy and invest in energy saving and renewable technology. The group's legislative director Anna Aurilio says the campaign is gaining momentum and signatures across America. "So far 156 federal candidates in more than 27 states have committed to the goals of a new energy future."
Two hundred eighty organizations have also endorsed the plan. Among them is Republicans for Environmental Protection, which - as its name implies - campaigns to keep or put Republicans with a pro-environmental record in Congress.
Government affairs director David Jenkins says its mission is to rise above special interests to refocus the Republican Party on its historic environmental roots where, he says, "stewardship and conservation were hallmarks of a Republican identity."
Jenkins says the group is pragmatic in its approach to environmental protection. "These Republicans that are good on these issues are the very people that can make that happen," he says and advises voters to re-elect them. "If you sweep them out and you make this issue more polarized, you are not doing long-term good for our environment. We need good people on both sides. Pick and choose your candidates. There are Republicans that are good on these issues and we need those people to help bring the rest of the party along."
U.S. PIRG's Anna Aurilio agrees. She hopes that concern over environmental issues will get voters to the polls next week to put the renewable energy commitment already in place in institutions like UDC, into the halls of Congress.