Leading by Example

It is doubtful that the 108th Congress will be remembered by history either for its passage of legislation leading to reduced dependence upon foreign petroleum or its support of the domestic sustainable energy industry. Despite the rapid passage of HR 6 by the House, it is increasingly likely that national energy policy will remain as it is for at least the next year.

RE Insider – June 9, 2003 [SolarAccess.com] Realistically the failure of the Congress to enact HR 6 will not represent much of a defeat for the sustainable energy sector. Indeed, the absence of this legislation could prove, in the larger scheme of things, more positive than its enactment. HR 6, for example, includes the Administration?s goal of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) to oil drilling. The legislation passed by the House would also increase federal supports for fossil and nuclear resources, while doing very little for either energy efficiency or renewable energy. The absence of an authorization bill has very little practical impact upon existing programs and does not stop use of funds provided in appropriations legislation. Because fossil and nuclear resources pollute the environment, risk human health, offer attractive terrorist targets, keep the nation dependent upon foreign resources and engaged in foreign wars, I am unlikely to mourn the death of HR 6. I will, however, be saddened by the loss of two provisions within the legislation, whose enactment could profoundly and positively impact the near-term commercial market for sustainable energy technology. Representatives Oberstar (D-MN) and Woolsey (D-CA) proposed these provisions. Both would provide funds for the purchase of sustainable energy technology by federal, state and local governments. The Oberstar Amendment authorizes $210 million per year for five years for federal purchases of solar energy systems. The Woolsey Amendment provides a total of US$120 million in spending authority–over four years–to support the purchase and installation of renewable energy systems on state and local buildings. Because the Woolsey Amendment limits federal support to 40% of a project?s funding, it could result in US$300 million of total purchases?assuming that state and local governments are able to raise the additional 60 percent. I don?t doubt that the presence of these amendments in HR 6 are a paean to members of Congress and their constituents, who are opposed to drilling in the Arctic and support sustainable energy technologies like solar and wind. Whether the reasons for their presence are pure or prurient, these provisions found their way into HR 6 and represent a direction that federal energy policy needs to take. They represent leadership by example and would result in a significant boost in sales for renewable energy companies. If these provisions are in fact enacted and funded, they would produce very real economic and environmental benefits. According to Adam Browning of Vote Solar, Oberstar?s amendment would: – Reduce toxic emission of up to 384 million pounds of CO2, 818 thousand pounds of NOx and 1.7 million pounds of SO2; and – Reduce the operating costs of federal buildings by up to US$700 million over 25 years. Woolsey?s amendment would: – Prevent/reduce toxic emissions of up to 110 million pounds of CO2, 234 thousand pounds of Nox, and 477 thousand pounds of SO2; – Reduce operating costs of state and local governments by up to US$200 million over 25 years. These amendments would nearly pay for themselves in terms of reduced operating costs. Any shortfall in savings between what was spent and what was saved, would be made up by increases in tax revenues generated by the rise in corporate and individual incomes, e.g., job creation and increased sales. Federal investment in sustainable energy over the past 25 years has too often been limited to support for long-term, high-risk research. Whether Republicans or Democrats occupy the White House or control either or both chambers of Congress, federal agencies rarely practice what is preached in policy. Notwithstanding the existence of executive orders and legislative pronouncements, federal purchases of clean energy technology and green power have made very little practical difference to-date. This is not to diminish efforts by the U. S. Department of Energy?s Federal Energy Management Program or by the committed corps of advocates in other federal agencies. Without them, the federal record would be more dismal than it is. Government purchases of renewable energy systems and green electricity require three basic things to succeed: leadership at the highest levels of government; procurement rules that support and encourage the purchase of non-traditional energy supplies and equipment; and, funding. The Oberstar and Woolsey amendments will help to pay for the purchase of renewable energy systems and green power; and, earlier efforts by federal officials have resulted in a procurement system more accepting of these purchases. Leadership at the highest levels, however, is still lacking. Experience suggests that government leaders are persuaded less by the potential environmental, economic and security benefits of sustainable energy alternatives and more by the desires of their constituents. The Oberstar and Woolsey amendments to HR 6 offer sustainable supporters an excellent opportunity for contacting their Senators and Representatives in Congress and telling them that you expect the federal government to lead by example in the effort to develop AND deploy domestically available sustainable energy alternatives like solar and wind. Tell them too that the Oberstar and Woolsey amendments should only be the beginning. To realize the benefits of these technologies requires their widespread application. As the largest energy consumer in the nation, the federal government would have a profoundly positive impact upon the energy market by simply meeting more of its energy needs from sustainable resources, increasing efficiencies and encouraging state and local govern-ments, as well as private industry and individual consumers, to follow its lead. In the final analysis, significant purchases of domestically available clean energy alternatives would do more to lower costs and to secure a permanent place in the market for these technologies than anything else government could do. The technology is avail-able, the cost is reasonable?particularly when compared to the price of environmental degradation, foreign wars and anti-terrorist measures?and the time is right. All that is lacking is the commitment of enough political leaders. Contacting your senators and representatives will help give them the grit they need to make the legislative decisions needed to provide us all with a safe and secure energy future. Therefore, write early and often! – Joel B. Stronberg has been in private practice since 1978. Currently the Washington Representative for the American Solar Energy Society, he has also counseled many of the major renewable energy sector organizations on key policy initiatives throughout his career and served as a special counsel at the U. S. Department of Energy. Mr. Stronberg attended Northwestern University where he earned a graduate degrees in law and urban studies.

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