Recovery Bill is Breakthrough on Clean Energy, Good Jobs
In signing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act today President Barack Obama ensured that $113.5 billion will be spent over the next two years on developing clean fuels, modernizing rail transit, pursuing energy efficiency, developing high-mileage electric vehicles, and scaling up electrical generating stations powered by the wind, sun, and heat of the earth.
The magnitude of the clean energy investment – consistent with the sums spent to launch the Interstate Highway System in the late 1950s, and to put a man on the Moon in the 1960s – is intended by President Obama and Congressional leaders to begin charting a new national economic development strategy that is based on much different priorities than those that preceded it.
Instead of consuming more energy, land, and natural resources the clean energy provisions in the stimulus bill are aimed at conserving energy and sharply improving efficiency. Instead of reaching deep into the earth and far overseas to secure increasingly scarce and insecure oil reserves, the president looks to harness the abundant sun, wind, and geo-thermal resources within America’s boundaries.
In place of adding more carbon dioxide and other climate change pollution to the atmosphere, the clean energy provisions of the stimulus bill will spur non-polluting sources of energy. And President Obama and Congressional leaders have set in place investments in research, development, and training in a bid to ensure that more of the parts of the clean energy economy are invented and installed in America by American workers.
President Obama signed the bill during a ceremony in Denver at the Museum of Nature and Science, which generates a portion of its power from a solar array of 465 photovoltaic panels on its roof. The president was introduced by a solar industry executive, Blake Jones, the president of Namaste Solar Electric.
The president said the clean energy provisions of the recovery bill are “an investment that will double the amount of renewable energy produced over the next three years.” He said the clean energy provisions would help “transform the way we use energy.” And he introduced a new Web site, Recovery.gov, to enable Americans to track the bill’s progress.
“Our American story is not — and has never been — about things coming easy,” the president said. “It’s about rising to the moment when the moment is hard, converting crisis into opportunity, and seeing to it that we emerge from whatever trials we face stronger than we were before.”
He added: “I hope this investment will ignite our imagination once more in science, medicine, and energy and make our economy stronger, our nation more secure, and our planet safer for our children.”
The $113.5 billion that the president and Congress directed to clean energy and green-collar job generation and training make up one of the largest portions of the $505 billion that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act authorizes in spending. The balance of the $787 billion stimulus bill – $282 billion – is for tax cuts.
In order to qualify for federal investments, the law requires states and cities to develop criteria for stimulus projects that gives priority to energy efficiency, repairing roads and bridges rather than building new capacity, green-collar job training, family-supporting jobs that include job quality standards, and access to stimulus jobs for low-income people.
A Plan For A New American Century
In both the scale of the spending directed to clean energy and good jobs programs, and in its specific goals the stimulus bill reflects years of work by the national Apollo Alliance coalition of labor, environmental, business, and social justice organizations.
“This is the largest investment in clean energy development in our history,” said Phil Angelides, a California businessman and chairman of the Apollo Alliance. “It represents the focused work of labor, business, environmental and social justice organizations who developed a clear strategy about where the nation needed to go, and worked together to achieve it. President Obama and members of Congress deserve the nation’s appreciation for taking this important step to guide the country down this new and essential economic path. But this is only the start of the economic transformation that America must undertake to ensure prosperity and provide for good family-supporting, green-collar jobs. More needs to be accomplished in the months ahead to accelerate development in the clean energy sector to limit oil imports, reduce the threat of climate change, and rebuild the American middle class.”
Among the clean energy investments in the stimulus are $10.9 billion to build a state-of-the art national energy grid, $6 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy, $2 billion for advanced battery manufacturing, $5 billion for home weatherization, $3.2 billion for state energy efficiency and clean energy grants, and $17.7 billion to modernize and expand rail transit.
James K. Gailbraith, an economist and professor of government at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs, also commended the Obama administration and Congress for the speed in drafting and passing the stimulus bill. But Galbraith, like other leading economists, said in an interview that the just-approved stimulus should be followed by more spending measures of similar scale.
“The policy needs to be bigger and we should be prepared for the crisis to go on longer,” he said. “That point is important for the Apollo Alliance. It is legitimate and important to have strong elements in the program that can spend out over a period, and on which you can build.”
“The reason why you want a program which builds for the long-term on energy and the environmental front is because that is the direction that the public and private economies want to take,” said Galbraith. “You can build an industrial sector on clean energy for the U.S. economy and it can serve as an export sector.”
“To me, the stimulus is a first step,” he said. “But we don’t know what scale we need. We need to be on a scale sufficiently large to make a decisive impact reasonably soon. If we don’t do that the bad news just keeps flowing in.”
More Action Needed
The Apollo Alliance is heeding that lesson. The Alliance’s national, state, and local organizations are preparing to be deeply involved in upcoming Congressional consideration of major investments in energy, manufacturing to make the components and parts for the clean energy sector, and in capping climate change gases and generating investment revenue for clean energy and green-collar jobs.
Today Congressional lawmakers and public interest leaders paused to consider the importance of the stimulus bill and the role played by the Apollo Alliance to gain its passage.
“This legislation is the first step in building a clean energy economy that creates jobs and moves us closer to solving our enormous energy and environmental challenges,” said Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and Senate Majority Leader. “We’ve talked about moving forward on these ideas for decades. The Apollo Alliance has been an important factor in helping us develop and execute a strategy that makes great progress on these goals and in motivating the public to support them.”
“President Obama and Congress made a huge investment to expand clean energy efforts,” said Dan Weiss, senior fellow and director of climate security at the Center For American Progress, a progressive think tank in Washington. “The economy, national security, and our planet mandate that we become more efficient and cleaner. The Apollo Alliance understood this and worked with labor, business, social justice and environmental organizations to support an economic transition that will put people back to work, save families money, and reduce oil use. The Alliance deserves applause for its efforts to help shape and pass this bill.”
Apollo’s Vision Realized In Part
To be sure, the clean energy provisions in the stimulus bill reflect the sound idea first introduced by the Apollo Alliance in 2003, when the group was launched. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the founders of the Apollo Alliance steadily gained support for a message that distilled more than 30 years of conversation in the environmental and business communities about the relationship of the environment to the economy. The Apollo Alliance, named for and inspired by the American space mission, cut through the complexity by arguing that the United States could simultaneously solve the energy crisis, the climate crisis, and the jobs crisis if it pursued clean energy development.
In its widely read New Energy For America report in January 2004, the Alliance called for a “new Apollo Project” to invest $300 billion over ten years in the clean energy sector to “revitalize our manufacturing capacity, rebuild neglected infrastructure, close the growing technology gap with foreign competitors, preserve the environment, and generate good jobs for America’s working families.” The report estimated that such an investment would generate 3 million jobs.
Many of the provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are consistent with recommendations that the Apollo Alliance made in its two reports last year.
In September 2008, the Apollo Alliance published The New Apollo Program, a comprehensive investment strategy and implementation plan that called for the federal government to make a $500 billion, 10-year commitment to clean energy development to generate 5 million jobs. In December 2008, the Alliance published the Apollo Economic Recovery Act that recommended a one-year, $50 billion investment to create or retain 650,000 direct jobs and 1.3 million more indirect jobs in communities across the country.
“The signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan marks a fundamental shift in our nation’s economic and energy policy – a shift toward energy independence, climate stability and broadly shared prosperity,” said Angelides, in a press statement today. “Across the nation, business, labor, environmental and community organizations have come together to create an unstoppable momentum that is making good green-collar jobs the focal point of America’s economic recovery. We must now turn our attention to the energy and climate initiatives that are needed this year to bring our critical mission to rebuild America’s economy from launching point to full speed.”
— Keith Schneider