Building a New Energy Economy

From Ben Franklin to Thomas Edison and beyond, Americans have always been world leaders when it comes to technology. Unfortunately, the current administration in Washington has been leading us away from innovation and into the arms of corporate interests. Nowhere is this clearer than in the critical field of renewable energy…

RE Insider – December 1, 2003 – From Ben Franklin to Thomas Edison and beyond, Americans have always been world leaders when it comes to technology. Unfortunately, the current administration in Washington has been leading us away from innovation and into the arms of corporate interests. Nowhere is this clearer than in the critical field of renewable energy. At a time when reducing our dependence on foreign oil is of the utmost importance, the Bush-Cheney administration holds fast to its policy of import, drill, and burn. As a result, we have become second-class citizens when it comes to renewable energy. In the 1980s, California was the world’s wind energy leader. Now Europe produces over 90 percent of worldwide wind energy. American companies used to be world leaders in solar power, but now Japan dominates that industry. We can be the world’s renewable energy leader again, and we need to be. Energy not only impacts the economy but two of the most pressing issues that will face our country in the 21st century as well: national security and global warming. We already import almost 60 percent of our oil and over 15 percent of our natural gas. The world’s largest reserves of both are located in the Middle East. Much of the money we export to import energy ends up in the hands of extremists who use it to fund hatred and terror. Meanwhile, a recent NASA study showed that the Arctic’s ice is melting at a rate of 10 percent per decade. Global warming is real. If it continues unabated it will have major impacts on our public health and our economy. We currently produce 70 percent of our electricity from fossil fuels — this is a significant source of carbon dioxide, not to mention other air pollutants that cloud our air and sicken our children. We can change this. A new energy economy with renewable energy and energy efficiency at its core will increase our security, clean our environment and protect public health, and create economic opportunities throughout our country — our energy investments should be enriching the American heartland, not corporate interests. There is no practical reason we cannot create a new American energy economy. Washington lobbyists are the only thing preventing the formation of a new energy economy. The Republican energy bill, which has been put on hold, at least until next January, was written behind closed doors by industry insiders. It showers industries with expensive giveaways that American taxpayers will have to pay for: – Immunity from lawsuits like New Hampshire’s for producers of the pollutant MTBE. American cities and taxpayers will be left to pay the $29 billion price tag for MTBE cleanup. The nation’s largest producer of MTBE? Lyondell, from Representative Tom DeLay’s home district. – An exemption from the Clean Water Act for a drilling technique that pumps large amounts of potential pollutants into the ground. The leading user of the technique: Halliburton. – A total of US$18 billion in giveaways to the fossil fuel industry, much of it for mature industries that do not need the assistance. Meanwhile, despite a bipartisan plea from 53 Senators, the Republican leadership rejected significant renewable energy provisions. It’s simply not a priority for Enron or Halliburton or Lyondell, so it isn’t a priority for George Bush, Dick Cheney, or Tom DeLay. We can do better than this. As Governor of Vermont, I clearly demonstrated my commitment to energy innovation. During my administration, Vermont became the first state to implement a statewide efficiency utility. The utility, known as Efficiency Vermont, helps Vermonters invest in the most efficient technologies to meet their energy needs. During my tenure as governor, Vermont lowered its energy needs by 5.5 percent. Efficiency Vermont’s success was acknowledged by Harvard’s Kennedy School which awarded the program its coveted Innovations in American Government Award. I also made renewable energy a priority. Our administration developed a comprehensive approach to clean energy that centered on efficiency and renewable sources including support for the development of the Searsburg wind farm which demonstrated the promise of wind energy in our mountainous state. As president, I will extend and expand on our successes in Vermont, and I will put the interests of the American people ahead of the interests of Enron and other corporations. I have a plan that will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, help our economy to grow, and ensure the health and safety of future generations of Americans: – Create a “renewable portfolio standard” so our nation generates 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. – Displace foreign oil with clean American alternatives by ensuring 10 percent of our motor fuels are American biofuels like ethanol and soy diesel. – Support wind energy on small and large scales by boosting transmission capacity from strong wind producing areas, and expanding tax credits for home and business sized generation. – Boost demand for solar technology by implementing a consumer tax credit for residential solar power and increasing federal support for R&D into solar technologies. – Support all types of renewable technology by extending the wind production tax credit, and expanding it to cover geothermal, solar and biomass. Renewable energy will be one of the most important new industries of the 21st century whether we participate or not. The growth of these industries in Europe and Japan is already impressive; if we do not make renewable energy a priority here we will be left behind for good and Americans will miss out on millions of high-paying jobs. My plan will create over 2 million jobs by 2020 and save consumers and businesses $600 billion in electricity and natural gas costs while cutting greenhouse gas emissions by almost half. This plan is practical, and it could not be more urgent. In the coming election, we will be faced with a critical choice. We can decide to allow President Bush to line the pockets of his friends in the oil industry at the cost of keeping America dependent on foreign oil. Or we can once again harness the truly profound powers of American innovation. Howard Dean, M.D. is the former Governor of Vermont. He is a Democratic candidate for President.

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