ASHEVILLE – Climate change is an environmental threat and an economic opportunity for the United States, Chelsea Clinton told people Wednesday at a downtown nonprofit working on the issue.
She said her mother, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, has said during the campaign and when she was secretary of state "that some country will be the (clean) energy superpower of the 21st century and she thinks it should be us."
Increasing the proportion renewables make up of the nation's energy use will not only fight global warming but create good jobs and dovetail with Hillary Clinton's plan to improve the nation's infrastructure, Chelsea Clinton said.
She spoke to about 180 people in a meeting room at The Collider, which helps businesses and governments understand the likely effect of global warming on them, provides educational programs about climate change, provides co-working space for entrepreneurs in the field and makes other efforts to spark the growth of businesses dealing with the issue. Another 90 or so watched a video feed in an adjoining room in the building at 1 Haywood St.
Chelsea Clinton visited East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., earlier in the day to discuss college affordability.
In Asheville, she said "questions related to climate change and investing in our clean energy future are some of the most critical questions in this election" and have not gotten as much attention as they deserve.
"It's one of the many things I didn't know I could care more about until I became a parent and found that I could," she said.
Hillary Clinton's clean energy plan calls for more than half a billion solar panels to be installed in the United States by the end of her first term and for the U.S. to generate enough renewable energy to power every home in the country within 10 years of her inauguration.
Hillary Clinton wants to launch a "clean energy challenge" that partners with states, cities and rural areas with incentives for increased use of renewable energy sources. They would include grants for states to exceed carbon dioxide reduction targets, awards for communities that make it easier to install rooftop solar panels and working with local and state governments to increase the reliability of the nation's electrical grid.
She says she will fight efforts to roll back President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, in which the EPA has directed that states significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Some states, including North Carolina, are challenging the plan in court, saying the EPA does not have the legal authority to impose it.
Hillary Clinton's plan says she wants to reduce the amount of oil consumed in the United States, include electrical transmission facilities in her push to modernize American infrastructure and provide alternatives for communities where coal mining has been an important part of the economy.
Chelsea Clinton said Wednesday her mother's approach involves the federal government offering incentives and setting goals but also leaves room for local communities to make decisions that best suit them.
"Across the country … I try to say, 'This is what a president can and can't do,' because if we really want to make progress on this, we need visionary, strong leadership like you have here in your county commissioner and your mayor," she said.
She called for community colleges and higher education institutions to support the clean energy industry by creating the necessary workforce. Initiatives her mother has suggested will depend on a trained workforce to carry them out, she said.
She said the federal government should make sure climate science is part of the studies of all children.
“There are a lot of kids around the country who aren’t learning about this in school, so we need to change that so that students are learning about climate change and the challenges of climate change, almost irrespective of anything else that they might be learning in science class," she said, calling climate change an “urgent existential threat."
The federal government's involvement is needed partly to ease the transition and keep renewable energy from increasing costs for ordinary Americans, Chelsea Clinton said.
"I don't think we should expect people to act against their economic self-interests" especially given that many Americans' incomes have been essentially stagnant for 15 years, she said.
She said she hopes there will be more support for action on climate change once the presidential election is over.
"Before we had 17 people running for president on the Republican side, we were moving toward a bipartisan consensus on a few areas," including climate change, Chelsea Clinton said.
Clinton said in an interview afterward that she has "this sort of old-fashioned view of listening to the experts, to the scientists" on climate change but acknowledged that some people doubt it is happening or deny that human activity is causing it.
But regardless of people's opinions about the causes of climate change, she said, "I would hope that we could have a consensus around the need to respond to changes in our climate as evidenced by the growing extreme weather that we see …and also the real opportunity to harness this challenge to create jobs across our country."
Brownie Newman, a Democratic Buncombe County commissioner who is running for chairman and founder of Headwaters Solar, introduced Chelsea Clinton, saying now is a pivotal time for renewable energy in America.
He said "new barriers and new roadblocks thrown in front of (energy initiatives) by those who would deny the climate change threats that we face" pose a threat to improvements and emissions reductions.
After she delivered a short speech that lasted about 15 minutes, Chelsea Clinton took questions from the audience.
Some focused on how Hillary Clinton's policies could address regional problems specific to the mountains.
A woman who did not state her name asked how Hillary Clinton's plans would benefit impoverished, rural areas throughout Appalachia.
"We need to be building solar panel factories exactly in those places," Chelsea Clinton said. “We need to be investing in coal country and in places where those kind of jobs have slowly disappeared as industry has waned."
Matthew Rudolf, a renewable fuels policy professional with an office in The Collider, attended the event and said in an interview he'd like to see the Clinton campaign identify a specific path to meeting carbon emissions goals set by the Paris Agreement.
In December, the United States agreed to reduce its emissions by more than 25 percent compared with 2005 levels as part of a multinational agreement that includes more than 190 countries.
"We're going to need everything we've got to get there," he said. "We set ambitious targets."
Chelsea Clinton emphasized the importance of the Paris Agreement.
“We have to meet our Paris obligations," she said. "We can’t expect other countries to abide by an agreement that we don’t abide by.”