PI Original Progress Illinois Thursday October 8th, 2009, 9:57am

A First Step Towards A Clean Energy Economy

On September 30, U.S. Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act.  Like its House counterpart -- the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which passed the House by a 219-212 margin in late June -- the bill ...

On September 30, U.S. Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act.  Like its House counterpart -- the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which passed the House by a 219-212 margin in late June -- the bill creates a nationwide cap on global warming pollution and makes significant investments in transitioning to a clean energy economy.    

Without question, we need new direction in our energy policy.  In 2006, U.S. consumers and businesses spent $921 billion on fossil fuels, more than was spent on education or the military.  Illinois is on track to spend as much as $43.6 billion on oil alone in 2030. And as oil becomes scarce worldwide, oil companies will be driven to more obscure, expensive, and hostile places to recover it.  Competitively, the country that revolutionized transportation through the plane and automobile and transformed information technology through the computer and Internet risks falling far behind in the clean energy revolution of tomorrow.       

The challenge is clear: We must take giant steps forward in capturing the potential of clean energy and transitioning to a more sustainable future.  The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act is a vital step forward.        

Like its House counterpart, the bill is not perfect.  The integrity of the bill’s cap on global warming pollution is threatened by the inclusion of “offsets,” which allows polluters to avoid reducing their own emissions and instead pay for greenhouse gas reductions elsewhere (such as planting trees).  Pollution reductions achieved through offsets are inherently less certain, permanent, or verifiable than on-site reductions.  The bill’s national renewable energy and energy efficiency standards could be strengthened to match similar policies adopted by the Illinois General Assembly in recent years. 

That said, this bill deserves our support for the following reasons:

First, the measure would have a significant impact on transitioning to a low-carbon economy.  Its target of an 83 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 reflects current climate science and constitutes our best hope of staving off the worst effects of global warming.  Revenue raised from auctioned emission allowances would be reinvested in cost-effective energy efficiency measures and help spur the renewable energy industries of tomorrow.  Measures such as appliance efficiency standards and building efficiency standards both reduce unnecessary energy consumption and spur economic growth through increased disposable income from lower monthly utility bill payments. 

Second, we have a clear responsibility to lead.  The United States has been the single largest contributor to global warming.  China has only recently overtaken current U.S. emissions, but their per capita emissions are approximately five times less than ours.  To put it crudely, we should start cleaning up our mess.  By so doing, we will drive the world to follow our lead.   

Third, we must strike while the iron is hot.  We are staring down a long-awaited opportunity to pass strong climate legislation in 2009, and we must build on the momentum of a successful House vote.  Losing this battle now is the best way to ensure weaker, less impactful future legislation.     

Finally, this bill should be viewed as just one step -- not the entire race.  Our experience in Illinois is instructive here.  We started with the creation of a climate change advisory group, moved forward by creating renewable energy and energy efficiency portfolio standards in 2007, and we have passed a suite of policies designed to reduce our carbon footprint since.  At the national level, this bill sets up a framework that can be similarly tweaked and strengthened in future years. 

Here in Illinois, we are now well-situated to thrive in a low-carbon economy.  The Blue-Green Alliance, a partnership of the United Steel Workers and Sierra Club, analyzed the clean energy supply chain and found our state had the third highest potential for renewable energy manufacturing jobs nationwide.  Illinois farmers will benefit from increased demand for erecting wind turbines and producing clean biofuels.  Alternatively, our farmers stand to suffer if no action is taken: according to a recent Environment Illinois report, global warming could cost Illinois corn growers $243 million a year from lower crop yields.    

Just as importantly, this bill wouldn’t place the burden on families least able to bear it.  An analysis by the Congressional Budget Office found that the net annual cost of the House version would be approximately $175 annually in 2020 -- equivalent to a postage stamp per day.  Low-income families struggling to make ends meet would actually see energy costs decrease by approximately $40 annually.  

That’s why Environment Illinois and our coalition partners in the Illinois Climate Action Network will be working hard to strengthen and pass the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act.  Polluting industries have hired over 2,000 lobbyists to flood the U.S. Capitol and frustrate our efforts, so we know it won’t be easy.  But it is imperative that we finally break through and begin the transition to a cleaner, more sustainable future. 

Let’s work to make it happen. Future generations are counting on us.    

Brian Granahan is the Clean Energy Advocate with Environment Illinois, a citizen-based non-profit environmental group with nearly 20,000 members across Illinois.  Environment Illinois works alongside other groups in the Illinois Climate Action Network, a coalition of diverse organizations working together on policy solutions to climate change.    

For more information, visit http://www.environmentillinois.org/ and http://www.illinoisclimateactionnetwork.org/  

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