Former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday called for less politics and more cooperation between private enterprise and government to develop clean energy despite the higher cost.
"We need a bias for action, a bias for cooperation and a bias for thinking big, even if we have to act small," Clinton said, speaking to the fifth annual Clean Energy Summit at Bellagio .
To critics who say the United States must focus more on developing its fossil fuels, including gas and oil, Clinton urged patience in developing solar, wind and geothermal energy. He warned the United States is falling behind Europe, China and other countries in developing clean energy sources.
"Five years is not enough. We have to pay the price of time," Clinton told an audience of about 600 people attending the summit at the Bellagio Convention Center on the Strip.
Clinton, a Democrat, said he is disheartened by Republican opposition to tax credits and other government help to develop clean energy, calling opponents "denialists."
Clinton was the keynote speaker at the fifth annual clean energy summit organized by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. Reid introduced Clinton, thanking him for coming to the first summit, too.
Clinton, in turn, thanked several Democratic lawmakers and candidates in the audience, including U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., former U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., Nevada Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, and Nevada Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Nev.
None of the Democrats’ Republicans opponents was in the audience at the event, including U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. Berkley is challenging Heller for his Senate seat, and Reid has put his political machine behind her as part of his strategy to retain Democratic control of the Senate. Titus, Horsford and Oceguera are running for Congress.
In a presidential election year, clean energy development has taken on greater political overtones as Obama seeks re-election and Republicans point to a series of failed government-backed projects under his watch, including Solyndra, which cost the federal government more than $500 million.
Clinton said the reason companies such as Solyndra have failed is because of increased foreign competition, including $32 million in new Chinese government investment in clean energy.
‘I ALMOST RETCHED’
Today, Clinton said the United States gets 11 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources, including 8 percent from hydroelectric power. The U.S. goal is 14 percent by 2035. That compares with the European target of 20 percent by 2020 with Germany already exceeding that level.
"I almost retched," Clinton said, when he heard about the modest U.S. goal.
He urged Congress to extend a wind tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of the year, as a good way for government to bolster private efforts to develop clean energy resources, which now cost more than oil and gas. And he praised former President George W. Bush for promoting wind energy when he was the governor of Texas, which gets up to 20 percent of its power from wind on blustery days.
"I joke with Bush it must have been in his proto-Socialist stage," Clinton quipped.
CLINTON’S ‘FIRESIDE CHAT’
After his speech, Clinton held a "fireside chat" on the stage with John Podesta, who was Clinton’s chief of staff at the White House. Podesta asked why clean energy had become so partisan.
Clinton said it became more politically divisive after President Barack Obama got elected and made it the centerpiece of his agenda. Republicans "had a ‘just say no’ strategy" to defeat him , Clinton said. He added that many of the big money political action committees funding Republican campaigns have financial interests in the oil and gas industry and feel threatened.
"They said if we just say no to everything, they’ll blame him," Clinton said, referring to Obama. "They’ll think he’s too far to the left. The same thing happened to me" during 1994’s "Republican Revolution" and subsequent government shutdown.
Clinton said the prescription is to seek bipartisan support for projects from the start.
The former president warned that if the United States and the world don’t develop more renewable energy, greenhouse gases and rising temperatures will threaten the human race.
Clinton said he read a book that concluded the species who manage to survive over time are those that cooperate among themselves, including humans, ants, bees and termites. The difference with humans, however, is that we are "vulnerable to arrogance," which could lead to our end, he said.
"If we’re destroyed, ants and bees will still be around," Clinton said.