With the economic stimulus package now law, advocates for a green economy are cheering. The bill includes nearly $80 billion for clean energy, the environment and science. Marchant Wentworth of the Union of Concerned Scientists helps Living on Earth host Bruce Gellerman sort out what went in- and what got cut out- of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts - this is Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman, in for Steve Curwood.
When President Obama signed the 787 billion dollar economic stimulus bill into law, he might as well have used green ink. 79 billion dollars - 10 percent - is devoted to green projects. That’s more than three times the Department of Energy’s annual budget - big bucks - but you need to look at the fine print to see what we’re buying.
Joining me is Marchant Wentworth, legislative representative for clean energy with the Union of Concerned Scientists. Mr. Wentworth, welcome to Living on Earth.
WENTWORTH: Thank you.
GELLERMAN: So you’re basically a clean energy lobbyist. What shade of green would you give this stimulus package?
WENTWORTH: Well it’s certainly by any measure is one of the greenest pieces of legislation ever enacted. Eighty billion dollars is a lot of money, but to put it in context, it’s about fifteen times the annual appropriation for energy efficiency and renewables that has come through the Congress.
GELLERMAN: What kind of bang are we getting for our bucks?
WENTWORTH: The short term is getting money through the state energy offices to weatherize low-income houses and promote energy efficient buildings. Here in Washington there’s about four billion dollars that would go just to federal buildings. There’s another 6.3 billion that’s going to flow to the states to help them turn on energy efficiency and renewables in the states. Coupled with this is a three year extension of the clean energy tax credits.
GELLERMAN: Those are specifically towards wind and geothermal and solar.
WENTWORTH: Well it’s a whole spectrum: wind, geothermal, you know, some mysterious stuff called biomass which is basically wood and energy crops, hydrokinetic – this is sort of windmills in the middle of rivers that generate electricity. All kinds of exciting things.
GELLERMAN: Two billion dollars for batteries.
WENTWORTH: Yeah. If you talk about electric cars you’re talking about batteries, so it’s very exciting to see this slug of new research and development.
GELLERMAN: Well what’s in it for me? Let’s get down to – you know – the real question. A lot of money. You know, I’m a home owner.
WENTWORTH: How are your windows?
GELLERMAN: I got new ones a few years ago.
WENTWORTH: Ah. Well, how about new storm doors?
WENTWORTH: The good news is that for years there was a weatherization program for low income, but there is some new money in this package for low to moderate income people and some tax credits for installing insulation and energy efficient devices. So, you know, new water heater, new refrigerator, all of that.
GELLERMAN: A lot of talk about green jobs – is there money for green education?
WENTWORTH: Yeah, 500 million dollars for green jobs. This was again an existing program in a previous energy bill that hadn’t been funded at all. I really like this program because it’s money’s going out to community colleges and so all of these renewable technologies, they’re all getting installed by local people. You know, you’re not gonna outsource these jobs to, you know, Japan or India.
GELLERMAN: I noticed there’s 3.4 billion dollars for carbon sequestration, basically taking carbon that would have gone in the air from coal plants and putting it into the ground.
WENTWORTH: Yeah the Union of Concerned Scientists believes that there is room for research and development in carbon sequestration. It’s still unclear how these plants are going to operate and so we think it’s reasonable to expect that a small research program to start and see whether these things actually work should be put in place.
GELLERMAN: It’s interesting how the perspectives change. 3.4 billion dollars becomes small these days.
GELLERMAN: What got whacked? This bill is actually less than either the House or Senate voted on.
WENTWORTH: Well the biggest surprise was the elimination of the 50 billion dollar loan guarantee for the nuclear power programs and we were pleased to have that removed. We believe that nuclear power’s enjoyed potent subsidies over the years and this was not the place to put additional subsidies. By and large the green programs survived the legislative process fairly intact. We had to run around pinching ourselves. We just couldn’t believe it was happening.
GELLERMAN: Well with so much green in this bill, how do you make sure that it gets into the pockets of the people it’s supposed to and doesn’t kinda get diverted, you know what I mean?
WENTWORTH: Sure. The partial insurance against that problem is that these flow through existing programs, they’re in every state, there’s a state energy office. I know there’s one here in Washington D.C. And they have tracking systems for that money. And so this is just additional money flowing through that. But, in addition, there is a set of tracking and accountability provisions in the stimulus package that was specifically put in to guard against fraud.
GELLERMAN: Now we should say that this is not a climate change bill.
WENTWORH: No, the purpose of this package, as the President envisioned it, was to come up with programs to get the money out the door within two years. But the crucial question for climate is a simple one: putting a price on carbon. This bill was not designed to do that. And that is something that we’ll been pushing hard for in the next year.
GELLERMAN: Well, Mr. Wentworth, I really enjoyed talking with you.
WENTWORTH: Well, thank you for having me.
GELLEMAN: Marchant Wentworth is the legislative representative for clean energy for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
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