John Muir Meets the Teamsters: Governors Tout a New Environmentalism


“Think of this alliance: the steel workers and the Sierra Club,” proposed Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM) last Friday when he argued that investing in clean energy and job creation can go hand in hand. Not willing to wait for Congress to pass federal legislation on behalf of cleaner power, Richardson and his gubernatorial counterparts in Pennsylvania and Montana unveiled state-level strategies for lessening dependence on foreign oil.

The governors support a roadmap towards energy independence developed by the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of environmental, labor, and religious groups seeking to reframe the debate on energy in the United States. The Alliance, which takes its name from President John F. Kennedy’s project to put a man on the moon, is the brain-child of The Breakthrough Institute, whose founders made waves in 2004 by publishing a piece called “The Death of Environmentalism” that criticized the environmental movement’s failure to build effective political coalitions.

The governors’ recent speeches, an odd mix of environmental concern, populism and economic mercantilism, echo this new attempt to package green energy in a way that appeals to the “can do” spirit of Midwestern swing voters concerned with vanishing jobs and national security. The roadmap calls for incentives to promote alternative fuels, mass-transit development, more efficient American automobiles, and the energy-efficient retro-fittings of buildings. All of which, the three governors argue, will create good-paying American jobs. Some skepticism about ill-conceived subsidies notwithstanding (see Slate for a rundown), it is refreshing to see the seeds of a broad green energy coalition beginning to sprout.

— Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell

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