WASHINGTON – Energy policy is hot. Politicians and providers alike are pushing to develop energy policy as public awareness grows.
But there is a fight over the best way to provide energy,for the economy as well as the environment. The renewable energy industries – solar,wind,geothermal and hydropower – depend on tax credits from the federal government and contend they are being left out of legislation.
In December,President Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act,which sets standards for vehicle and appliance efficiency. The law also supports green building projects by establishing the Office of High Performing Green Buildings.
The law hardly seems to satisfy anyone completely. Those who felt left out of last year's law are now preparing to lobby for their proposals this year.
Bush urged Congress to approve cleaner coal technology and solar,wind and nuclear power. He also recommended that Congress allow oil drilling in the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge,long a topic of contention between environmentalists and the oil industry. None of those provisions made it into the law.
The most prominent option on the table now is a bill introduced by Sens. Joseph Lieberman,I-Conn.,and John Warner,R-Va.,the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act.
The bill proposes a cap-and-trade system of limits on greenhouse gas emissions,which would limit industrial pollutants and allow companies to buy additional pollution rights.
It provides incentives for appliance efficiency,green building and hybrid technology but does not address funding for renewable energy companies. In early December,the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee sent the bill to the Senate with a number of bipartisan cosponsors.
If the bill had included tax provisions,it would have gone to the Finance Committee and died,said a Lieberman aide who works on energy issues.
The aide said that,by attaching a price to carbon dioxide emissions,the bill provides reasons for private investors to invest in technologies that generate energy without emitting greenhouse gases. In effect,it gives a competitive advantage to companies that don't generate the gases.
Proceeds from the auction of emissions rights will support renewable energy technologies and other environmental projects.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid,D-Nev.,and Sen. Barbara Boxer,D-Calif.,who chairs the Environment Committee are committed to getting the bill passed as soon as possible,Lieberman's aide said.
The oil industry acknowledges the need for all forms of energy sources. Karen Matusic,a spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute,said that,with global demand for energy on the rise,having multiple energy providers is not a bad option. In fact,a number of oil companies invest in wind,solar and other renewable energy.
However,Matusic says the oil industry maintains that legislation favoring one industry would not be a step in the right direction.
A 2005 bill gave tax credits to renewable energy industries. Most of these incentives will expire at the end of this year.
Rhone Resch,president of the Solar Energy Industries Association,said Congress needs to address the expiring tax credits sooner rather than later because it takes many months to plan and construct renewable energy plants. With a deadline looming on the federal incentives,many companies will not begin projects that are necessarily long term.
It is unusual for such extensions to be granted in a stand-alone bill. More often,the measures are included in other legislation,and the renewable energy industries are pushing to be part of the economic stimulus package.
After declines in American and world markets,Bush called for immediate tax relief to stimulate the economy. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,D-Calif.,and Minority Leader John Boehner,R-Ohio,announced an agreement Thursday with Bush on a package that includes rebates to businesses and taxpayers.
“When you think about an economic stimulus package,do you want to just write them a check or do you want to give them a job?” Resch said.
Nonetheless,speed is really the industries' main point.
“It needs to get done early in this year,” said Linda Church Ciocci,director of the National Hydropower Association. “Our industries need the certainty of knowing that it's finished in order for them to continue to grow.”
The renewable industries argue that including the extensions in the economic stimulus bill would be smarter than stimulating the economy through tax cuts. Faced with stymied projects,homebuilders may lose work. Additionally,should Congress not help the renewable industries,”green-collar” jobs may be headed overseas,translating to a new type of dependency on foreign energy.
Green-collar jobs are construction or service jobs created to maintain environmentally friendly power plants and buildings.
As the energy bill came up for a vote in December,Reid said in a statement that the original bill would have extended incentives to renewable energy industries,which Republicans cut.
Kenneth P. Green,at the American Enterprise Institute,a conservative think tank,said Republicans in Congress are generally less enamored with wind and solar energy than Democrats. Both support biofuel,made from vegetable oil,animal fat or recycled cooking grease. “Biofuel is popular because a lot of farm people want to grow it and everyone wants the farm vote,” Green said.
The federal government provides subsidies to the biofuel industry. “Congressmen trumpet it as freedom from foreign oil. It's popular because it appeals to their constituencies,” Green said.
Environmentalists side with the renewable energy industries. Following approval of the December bill,the Sierra Club's top legislative priority has been the tax credit extensions. Sierra Club spokesman Josh Dorner said,”There are a lot of projects that depend on the extensions,and we don't want to leave the industry in the lurch.”