Environmental Groups Want Obama to Green the Power Sector

By Published On: November 26, 2008

Major environmental groups unleashed a volley of proposals in the nation’s capital November 25 aimed at increasing renewable energy, cleaning up existing power plants, and stimulating energy efficiency in buildings. They also want the industry placed under a carbon cap-and-trade program in which they would have to purchase emissions rights. In a national press conference, a coalition of 29 environmental organizations released a 391-page report, Transition to Green, outlining their priorities for President-elect Barack Obama and the bigger Democratic majority in Congress. "Building a green economy and stopping global warming will be a heavy lift," acknowledged Margie Alt, Environment America executive director. However, investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy "can create millions of green collar jobs," said Frances Beinecke, Natural Resources Defense Council executive director. The groups presented their priorities as crucial to stimulating the nation’s economy. They called for Obama to increase research and development funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency, set tighter energy efficiency standards for appliances, and increase federal financial support for home weatherization. They also asked the new administration to seek Congressional authority to federally fund energy efficiency measures in buildings. Looking longer term, the groups called for a new national high voltage grid employing smart technology and electricity storage systems that can move renewable energy from remote areas including major West Coast, Midwest, and Eastern cities and the sunny Southwest. Along with enhanced federal energy efficiency programs, building a new superhighway for renewable energy could serve as one cornerstone of an economic stimulus package, said Larry Schweiger, National Wildlife Federation chief executive officer. Specifically, the groups want the U.S. Department of Energy to "catalyze" action on transmission facilities to bring green power from renewable energy zones the agency would designate into metropolitan areas. The groups also back Congressional action to reform the current transmission cost allocation system, which generally puts the onus on renewable energy developers to pay for new lines to interconnect their projects into the power grid. The groups envision wider allocation of the costs, as well as federal financing when necessary. They backed a 25 percent renewable portfolio standard for the utility industry by 2025, as has Obama. "His priorities jive nicely with the priorities of the environmental community," said Alt. In further recommendations, the groups want Congress to swiftly enact climate change legislation that establishes a federal carbon cap-and-trade program. Under it, the government would auction emissions rights and use the proceeds to fund green programs. In light of the economic slowdown—which has made it difficult for companies and individuals with plunging income to benefit from current renewable energy tax credits—the groups called for Congress to amend the federal tax code to further support renewable energy. They want the tax incentives to be refundable to individuals and companies that do not pay enough income taxes to fully benefit from the credits today. Finally, the environmental organizations called for a crackdown on power plant emissions of particulate, mercury, and sulfur and nitrogen oxides, including immediate reversals of Bush administration relaxations of standards in place under President Clinton.

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