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Scaling Clean

Sad news; an outstanding leader in corporate sustainability has passed away.

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Cross posted from the Great Energy Challenge blog

What wasn’t to dislike about the spectacle of this summer’s recently concluded budget battle? There was the impending economic disaster, the Full Monty on just how dysfunctional Congress has gotten, and the outsized role given by those operating on the political fringe.

But for clean energy advocates, there was another reason to throw the remote at the TV: Pro-clean energy elected officials missed the opportunity to cut government handouts to fossil energy companies.

I’m no budget expert, but when we need to cut a lot of spending, shouldn’t we cut the really big stuff that people dislike anyway? Nothing qualifies for that category like the combined welfare check we cut each year to the oil, coal and gas industries: $52 billion a year according to the most comprehensive count to date. For those in elected office trying to scale the clean economy, shouldn’t kicking these highly profitable, mature industries off the dole have been a policy and political no-brainer?

The answer given by Democratic pollster Mike Bocian is an unqualified “yes.” (See video above.) Bocian, now with GBA Strategies, spoke at our Communicating Energy lecture series before the budget standoff hit its climax. His message was the same I heard echoed roughly a week later by top Republican pollster Neil Newhouse: Cutting government handouts to big oil companies is a political winner with practically no electoral downside.

By similarly large majorities of over 70 percent, Americans want to cut the massive government welfare check fossil energy, and they want the relatively inexpensive federal policy support for clean energy left alone. Plenty of Republicans around the country want this waste ended, and we ought to have the two political parties racing to see who can cut the most from the handouts to fossil energy.

But the plans offered by Congressional Republicans – the “Ryan Plan,” named for author Rep. Paul Ryan (WI); or the “Cut, Cap and Balance” plan from Speaker Boehner –would have done exactly the opposite. For President Obama and other clean energy advocates, this gap created an opportunity to put small government advocates in the position of defending large, unpopular forms of government waste.

However, whether you’re marketing products or policies, busy Americans want things bottom-lined. You just can’t win their attention without message discipline, simplicity, repetition, and the plain language that connects to where their attitudes are.

To win the budget fight in the court of public opinion, each side –President Obama and his staff on one side, and Speaker Boehner and his caucus on the other – should have been trying to boil this messy situation down to a bottom line, anchored by key phrase.

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