Photo by Al Franken for Senate
Two hundred and thirty-nine days after Minnesota voters went to the polls to elect a US Senator, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that Al Franken (D) is the winner. For Democrats the victory is crucial. Franken becomes the 60th Democratic member of the Senate — the number needed to prevent filibusters.
Partisanship aside (if such a thing is possible), what does Franken’s victory mean for environmentalists, specifically for supporters of solar power?
The answer: a lot, for two reasons.
First is the man Franken replaces, Republican Norm Coleman. As Grist reporter Kate Sheppard observed in the final weeks of the 2008 campaign, Coleman had just a 27% lifetime voting record with the League of Conservation Voters. And despite a moderate stance on several green issues, Coleman’s Website didn’t mention the words “climate change” or “global warming.”
That leaves the second reason: at the very least, Franken will be a reliable vote for green issues. On climate change and renewable energy, his campaign positions were, as fellow Minnesotan Garrison Keillor would put it, “above average.”
For example, when Sheppard asked Franken his stand on renewable energy, here’s the candidate’s response:
“Congress has only just begun to develop energy policies that will move us in the right direction toward energy independence and toward addressing global warming. The 111th Congress will need to accelerate the progress on clean energy policies, by adopting legislation to cap and mandate reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. An average reduction of 2 percent each year would achieve the goal of an 80 percent total reduction by 2050. To reach an 80 percent reduction by 2050, permits to emit carbon should be auctioned — not given away. Auctioning off permits is the most effective way to cut emissions, drive investors to clean energy options, and push the market to demand least-cost alternatives such as efficiency. I actually kind of like the Danish model which allows the permitting fees to be reinvested in those same companies to make the necessary improvements.”
That position is farther downfield than where the House Waxman-Markey bill was able to get last week. Franken may compromise and accept mass permit giveaways as the price of getting a bill passed. Certainly, a more interesting possibility is that Franken will nudge his new colleagues to stick with auctions. Yes, he’s a freshman Senator, and they generally follow the party marching orders. Franken, however, is an outsider by both temperament and circumstance.
How many of his colleagues have written books with titles anywhere nearly as combative as “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot“? Sure, that’s meant to be funny, but as his readers know, Franken’s humor can have a sharp edge. Not razor sharp, mind you. Franken is no Chris Rock. Still, beneath those layers of “Minnesota nice” lurks a darker, edgier humor of someone who never quite belongs. (As a Jew who also grew up in the Midwest during the 50s and 60s, I’m intimately familiar with this dynamic.)
Personality aside, Franken won’t be joining the Senate until after the July 4th. That means he’ll have missed about half of his first year in office, burnishing his outsider credentials even more, and with it, increasing the likelihood that Franken will stand firm in his positions.
Enough of the warm-up act. Let’s finish by letting the Senator Elect have the final words, taken from a Minneapolis campaign rally in April 2008:
“I want to power Minnesota homes and businesses with renewable energy that comes from Minnesota. Wind energy, solar energy, biofuels – you know, Al Gore says that there’s no silver bullet to address global warming, but there is silver buckshot. I want to make those homes and buildings green. We should retro-fit foreclosed homes, make tax credits available to low-income homeowners so they can retro-fit their homes, and make every federal building we build carbon-neutral. I want to invest in transportation options like light rail, commuter rail, inter-city rail, and plug-in hybrid electric cars, made in Minnesota factories by Minnesota workers. And whatever the next innovation is, I want it to be discovered and developed at the University of Minnesota, not the University of Stockholm, so I want to invest in research and development.
“To pay for new investments I’ll support a cap-and-trade system that cuts carbon emissions by 80% by the year 2050. The proceeds of that system, combined with ending the subsidies for the big oil companies, will allow us to launch an Apollo program to invest in new sources of renewable energy and energy efficiency, as well as continue to develop and commercialize the technologies we’ve already discovered. These are common-sense, win-win proposals for Minnesota. We can finally end our dependence on foreign oil, address the climate crisis, create jobs here in Minnesota, and provide Minnesota families with lower prices at the pump and better values when they open their monthly electric bill.”