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Power Shift: Has White House Abandoned Green Movement?

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Lee Brenner

By Lee Brenner on April 13, 2011

An army of 10,000 young environmentalists will be taking to the streets (and the Convention Center) in Washington DC this weekend at the Energy Action Coalition’s (EAC) annual Power Shift Conference with a goal of lighting a flame under the proverbial ass of the clean energy movement.

The EAC is an umbrella group of “50 youth-led environmental and social justice groups working together to build the youth clean energy and climate movement.” Most of these college-aged and 20-something organizers earned their first political stripes during the 2008 Obama campaign, and at the upcoming conference, they will hear from former Vice President Al Gore, who many regard as the Dalai Lama of the environmental movement.

In addition to Gore, clean energy leaders such as Van Jones and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will join the conference. And as I found out when I spoke to two of the event’s leaders, many of these citizen soldiers who fought long and hard for then-Senator Obama are none-too-happy with President Obama, especially when it comes to standing firm on the energy promises the candidate made on the campaign trail.

As the Obama 2012 campaign launched, I sat down with Courtney Hight and Maura Cowley, former Obama 2008 campaign staffers and current Co-Directors of the Energy Action Coalition, to discuss the conference and their current dissatisfaction with the administration.

LB: What’s the message you want to send this year as the 2012 campaign launches?

CH: There are 10,000 young voters coming to town to hold President Obama accountable. We need to change the conversation on energy in this country. Many of the people coming worked on the ground for candidate Obama and for “change,” and frankly, they feel abandoned.

LB: How has the President abandoned them?

CH: The WH is opening up coal mining, and he’s continued to explore nuclear options — even in light of this horrible tragedy in Japan. He just hasn’t “shown up” on climate change.

MC: Here’s an example: Around the same time the President announces new coal mining initiatives, the DNC Convention takes a credit line out from Duke Energy, a polluting energy company that is all about coal and nuclear. Coincidence??

LB: But the Administration has clearly made strides, right? Obama mentioned clean energy in the recent SOTU.

MC: There has been movement, but it seems that natural gas, coal and oil is the agenda. And they are still talking about a nuclear renaissance.

LB: Do you think young people underestimated what it takes to get things done in Washington?

CH: We understand things will take time, but they are taking money from corporate interests and are mortgaging our future. In the long-term, the only viable option is clean, safe energy.

LB: Will these young activists actually vote for a Republican candidate? Can Obama still rally the base or is the damage done?

CH: People want to believe in him, and trust me, they are sad to lose “hope.” But I keep hearing people tell me that they are taking that poster down off their walls. I think the Administration is taking us for granted, and they are potentially losing a major portion of their base…on an issue that most Americans can understand is vital for our future. It doesn’t make sense.

MC: And the chatter isn’t that they are going to vote for someone else…they just aren’t going to show up. Elections are won through securing your base and gaining the independents.

CH: It seems the President keeps moving closer to the Tea Party rather than hold a hard line. There is an economic uprising happening and now we find out that GE and BP aren’t paying taxes? That’s insanity.

MC: We just think Obama is giving up too much. You never see the Republicans giving up ground like this. They didn’t move to the center after 2008, yet Dems move to the center after 2010.

LB: Well, didn’t candidate Obama specifically talk about bringing an era of bipartisan change? Doesn’t that entail compromise?

CH: Listen, young people are suffering without jobs, and guess what: renewable energy equals jobs. They are leaving the base behind. And, of course, Republicans aren’t going to change if they keep getting concessions.

MC: We’ve invited President Obama many, many times to this year’s event. He still hasn’t said yes to come speak to 10,000 of his supporters. In 2009, instead of coming to Power Shift, he went to a Washington Wizards basketball game.

LB: Is it a lost cause for him?

MC: Not at all. In a swift move, he could rally a core part of his base. He still has the chance to inspire us. Remember, young people do the work to get people to the polls, including minorities, elderly, etc. If Obama takes young organizer for granted, it could have a major effect on the rest of the campaign. To sacrifice the physical health of the people that voted for him is a bold and presumptuous move.

CH: Obama needs to give major incentives for clean energy and dissuade the use of dirty energy. This is the way to win the future.

Power Shift 2011 begins on April 15th and runs through the 18th. Visit the website here.

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