2009-07-31 / Columnists

Meeks' Message From Capitol Hill

Putting Energy Into Economic Recovery
Commentary From The Desk Of Congressman Gregory Meeks

GREGORY MEEKS GREGORY MEEKS It is widely acknowledged that the long-term security and stability of American families, of federal, state, county, and municipal governments, or large, small and medium-size businesses, depends on health care reform. But, putting a comprehensive energy policy into place is also indispensable to recovering from recession, modernizing our economy, and restoring America's global competitiveness. Energy independence, clean energy, renewable energy, alternative energy, energy efficiency, and energy innovation are keys to creating millions of new jobs and combating global climate change.

In one of this summer's most underreported stories, the House of Representatives took a giant step in this direction a few weeks ago when it passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act (HR 2454 or ACES for short).

Probably what most people heard about HR 2454 was that it passed by only seven votes. That's like dismissing the Giants' Super Bowl victory a couple of years ago because they only won by a couple of points.

The margin of energy independence HR 2454 will provide is infinitely more important than the margin of its passage in the House. The Senate takes up the bill in the fall.

What will ACES do? • Create a "cap and trade" system that places a ceiling on total carbon emissions but allows carbon emissions producers to trade emissions permits or allowances within the cap. (The cap will be progressively lowered over time so that the U.S. will be able to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.) • Limit emissions from electric utilities, oil refineries, and other major sources, but reward companies as they use cleaner technology. Coupled with the investments the stimulus package has already made in clean energy, energy efficiency, and alternative energy, H.R. 2454 will facilitate the emergence of new industries and technologies, creating millions of green jobs. (One study estimates that together with the stimulus package, ACES will create 1.7 million new clean energy jobs.) • Allocate a substantial percentage of the permits for the benefit of energy consumers and low-income households. The bill will provide incentives for domestically-produced clean energy, including: wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and biomass, as well as incentives for private investment in energy efficient technologies, carbon capture and sequestration programs, and energy efficient vehicles. • Allocates 3 percent of the allowances from the cap-and-trade program for grants to refit or establish automotive plants to build plug-ins and other advanced vehicles. • Maintains the "cash-for-clunkers" program that provides new vehicle purchasers and leasers with vouchers worth up to $4,500 for replacing an older, less efficient vehicle with a new, more efficient vehicle. • Cuts our foreign oil consumption by more than 5 million barrels a day over the next two decades. That's as much as we currently import from the Middle East and Venezuela combined.

While critics complain about the cost of HR 2454 and call the cap and trade program an "energy tax," the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the legislation will cost the average American family only 22 to 30 cents a day or $80-$111 a year. A study requested by Congressional Republicans put the average annual cost of the legislation at $175 per household.

HR 2454's energy efficiencies will save the average household more than $4,000 annually.

The $400 billion American consumers currently spend each year on foreign oil will increase by $420 billion annually over the next 5 years if we do nothing to reduce our dependence on oil and fossil fuels, forcing every family to pay a "do-nothing tax" of $3,500 a year.

New York's congressional delegation fought hard to ensure that ACES helps to position New York State and particularly New York City to become an indispensable force for energy efficiency research, innovative energy technology, and environmental conservation nationally and globally.

By creating new industries, including new opportunities for minorityand women-owned enterprises, and tens of thousands of green jobs, ACES could provide the levers for revitalizing New York's economy, upstate and downstate.

For example, New York will receive up to $376 million for its energy efficiency programs. We will also gain additional funds for acid rain reduction, research for advanced gas turbines and other green technologies, as well as public-private clean energy partnerships.

The Green Bank that will be set up under ACES could provide businesses and entrepreneurs in New York City and around the state with the financing and loan guarantees for retrofitting buildings and shifting to renewable energy.

Retrofitting thousands of buildings in the Big Apple would put a lot of people to work researching, designing, constructing, installing, and maintaining the technology, equipment and services.

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