Renewable Energy and Climate Change Front and Center in D.C.

Three stories out of Washington, D.C. this week show that renewable energy, climate change and green jobs are hot topics around the beltway and could play a big role in policy passed by the new U.S. Congress.

Renewable Portfolio Standard Bill on the Table

First, a 25-percent-by-2025 renewable electricity standard bill was introduced this week by Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Todd Platts (R-PA). The bill would boost renewable energy generation 135 percent above and beyond current policies between now and 2025, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists’ preliminary analysis of the legislation.

“This electrifying standard would provide a smart, proven, cost-effective strategy to ramp up our clean energy use, create tens of thousands of jobs, and lower consumer utility bills,” said Alan Nogee, UCS Clean Energy Program director. “The clean energy tax incentives that Congress is finalizing will get us moving in the right direction in the near term, and the renewable energy standard makes sure we stay on that path for the foreseeable future.”

Beginning in 2012, the legislation would require large electric utilities to gradually increase their reliance on renewable energy sources for the following 13 years until they amounted to 25 percent. UCS found that the 25-percent-by-2025 standard would add 135 percent more clean, renewable power in the United States above and beyond current state and federal policies. Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia currently have state standards. UCS calculates that the federal standard would create enough clean electricity to power roughly 150 million typical homes by 2025.

Climate Change Must Tackle Certain Issues

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) held a press conference to announce the six broad principles that she says will need to be addressed in an upcoming climate change bill.

The principles included reducing emissions to levels guided by science to avoid dangerous global warming, setting emissions targets that are certain and enforceable, ensuring that state and local entities continue pioneering efforts to address global warming, establishing a transparent and accountable market-based system that efficiently reduces carbon emissions, using revenues from the carbon market to keep consumers whole as our nation transitions to clean energy and ensuring a level global playing field, by providing incentives for emission reductions and effective deterrents.

Chairman Boxer did not offer a firm timeline for consideration of a cap-and-trade bill, beyond saying she expected the committee would produce a bill before the Copenhagen round of climate change negotiations in December.

“It will take a while, it could be weeks not months, but it will be before the end of this year,” she said. “We may move in three weeks, we may move in six weeks, we could move in 10 weeks,” she said.

Green Jobs Should be Good Jobs

Finally, Senate Finance Committee member Debbie Stabenow, (D-MI) and House Energy and Commerce Committee member Jay Inslee, (D-WA), called on congressional leaders to make the creation of high-quality green jobs a top priority of the economic recovery and reinvestment stimulus package during a news conference this morning at the U.S. Capitol.

During the news conference, Rep. Inslee said that building a strong green economy will require implementing policies that both protect the planet and meet the needs of working families.

“Building up this economy with thousands of green jobs is an investment in inexhaustibly renewable resources – human intellect, ingenuity and America’s capacity for working hard to get the job done,” said Inslee. “We must adopt an economic recovery package that recognizes the power of innovation, promotes policies that make sure workers get a fair break, and invests in innovative green technologies and programs to slow, stop and eventually reverse the progress of climate change.”

Sen. Stabenow and Rep. Inslee joined labor, environmental and business leaders to release a new report challenging the commonly held assumption that all the newly created green jobs are good, middle-class jobs. The report High Road or Low Road: Job Quality in the New Green Economy, authored by Good Jobs First, examined existing green jobs in manufacturing, construction and waste-management. The research revealed wide variations in wages, benefits and labor conditions, with some green-collar jobs paying as little as US $8.25 an hour without benefits.

“Creating more green jobs is the path to a greener, more sustainable future for American families,” said Stabenow. “As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I am pleased that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act doesn’t create just any green-collar jobs. Rather the recovery package creates good-paying, green-collar jobs that will help strengthen the middle class of this country.”

According to the report, wages were generally highest where local officials attached strict labor standards to economic development subsidies, or where workers were represented by labor unions. Wages were lowest where job quality requirement were weak or poorly enforced and where workers had no union representation.

The report was commissioned by Change to Win, Sierra Club, the Laborers’ International Union and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

These three developments, combined with the various renewable energy provisions moving through the House and Senate in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 seem to signal that the administration and Congress are both serious about making renewable energy and the green economy focal points of policy and recovery from the current economic recession.

Check back with everyday for more coverage of the Obama Administration’s first 100 days as well as Congressional and state level renewable energy developments.

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