The announcement by 17 governors yesterday to jointly pursue clean energy goals was perhaps most noteworthy in what it did not include—any mention of climate change.

That omission was necessary to bring a bipartisan swath of states together on energy efficiency and renewable energy, modernizing the electricity grid and promoting electric and alternatively fueled vehicles—all subjects often mentioned in the same breath as climate change.

“That really wasn’t a topic of conversation,” Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) said yesterday in a call with reporters, noting that next week’s National Governors Association meeting might provide an opportunity to discuss climate issues.

Instead, the “Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future” makes an economic case for expanding cooperation between states on renewable energy. The document cites “extreme weather events,” including sea-level rise, droughts, floods and wildfires, that can affect electric reliability and the economy, but it does not explicitly mention global warming.

That didn’t stop some environmentalists from holding up the agreement as an example of progress on climate, especially in the wake of last week’s Supreme Court ruling that put a hold on U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan for greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

“While the court may have temporarily blocked the Clean Power Plan, it can’t block progress toward wind and solar energy, affordable electric vehicles, and a more modern and efficient electric grid,” said Rob Sargent, senior director of Environment America’s clean energy program. “Kudos to these governors for pledging to forge a path forward for climate progress and clean air.”

Other observers said that while it might have been politically advantageous to leave climate out of the conversation, the agreement will still help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s acceptable for some of these governors to talk about the impacts of climate change, like extreme weather and sea-level rise, as long as they don’t talk about the greenhouse gases that cause those effects,” said Bill Magavern, policy director for the Coalition for Clean Air. “The fact is that making a transition to clean energy is the most important way to mitigate climate change, so I don’t really care that much what they call it.”

No ‘angst’ about labels

Some of the signatories have recently opposed not only action on climate but also clean energy policies. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) was among the 24 who filed suit against the Clean Power Plan last year, while Sandoval’s Public Utilities Commission late last year slashed the rates that rooftop solar panel owners receive for power sent back to the grid, causing an exodus of rooftop solar companies (ClimateWire, Jan. 27).

Snyder highlighted the agreement’s potential to reduce energy costs and increase reliability, while Sandoval cited the possibility of exporting even more renewable energy from Nevada to neighboring states. The state currently exports a third of its renewables and is slated to increase renewable generation from 18 percent of its current mix to 25 percent by 2025.

Others issued statements making explicit the link between energy generation and greenhouse gas emissions. Seven of the governors mentioned climate change in their statements, including Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D), Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D).

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), usually one of the most full-throated advocates of action on climate, did not mention it in his statement.

“There’s a very sharp cleavage in the United States on this issue of climate change, and it has a lot of partisan coloration,” he explained to reporters. “We want to move forward. We want to get done important stuff without getting bogged down in the larger controversy.”

Another observer agreed that the pact would affect emissions even without a focus on climate.

“The impacts of the existing energy structure are what they are, so I don’t have any particular angst about the nomenclature,” said Bob Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and a former deputy administrator of U.S. EPA.

Perciasepe compared the agreement to attempts to address childhood obesity through diet and exercise, each of which has a separate but overlapping set of benefits. “If one group is all about exercise and the other is about food, they may not ever mention the other one, but they’re both going to accomplish the goals,” he said.

The rest of the 17 signatories are: Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R), Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D), Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D), Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D), New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D), Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500