|Peter Bahouth, Executive Director
Aug. 15, 2011
It seemed there was no escaping the ‘debt-ceiling’ fiasco and market turmoil this week and as is all too often the case, the environment seemed to bear the brunt of the loses. Clean tech stocks have been falling even faster than the market as a whole, hit by a “triple whammy”—producing too much capacity for the demand, problems with government debt, and broader risk aversion among investors. Meanwhile, U.S. government support for renewable energy may plunge from record levels, setting back the use of wind and solar power before they can compete on their own with oil, gas and coal. To make a long story short, the debt agreement, which is focused on cuts only and not revenue increases, makes it more likely that this infant sector is strangled before it matures.
The Obama Administration seemed keen to do what it could to fight back against the debt ceiling’s blow to the renewables sector. In what was the President’s first official trip outside of Washington in over a month since the debt crisis negotiations began, Barack Obama made a pitch Thursday for the job-creating potential of clean energy. During a speech Thursday in Holland, Mich., Obama touted steps his administration has taken without Congress, including the new vehicle-fuel economy standards announced in recent weeks. “Think about it. That’s what we got done — and by the way, we didn’t go through Congress to do it,” Obama told workers at an advanced battery plant. “But we did use the tools of government — us working together — to help make it happen.”
The White House also released the first efficiency standards for heavy-duty trucks. The new standards are aimed at increasing fuel efficiency and cutting emissions from a range of model year 2014-2018 heavy-duty trucks. Over the life of the program, the White House said, the new standards will save truck owners $50 billion in fuel costs, reduce oil consumption by 530 million barrels and prevent 270 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from escaping into the atmosphere — while imposing minimal costs on truck owners. A range of groups from top industry groups and trucking companies — including Navistar, Volvo, Chrysler, Con-way and others — to Operation Free, a group of U.S. military veterans advocating for clean energy policies, endorsed the standards Tuesday. Check out USCAN’s dedicated clean vehicles page to see more information.
The push for cleaner vehicles has already led to the development of jobs in 43 states and the District of Columbia, according to a new report from the United Auto Workers, Natural Resources Defense Council and National Wildlife Federation. That number is likely to grow as automakers strive to meet the recently announced 54.5 mpg target by 2025. The clean car industry already employs 155,000 people, with jobs that include manufacturing hybrid engines, engineering lightweight steel and designing charging infrastructure for electric cars, according to the report. Those jobs are concentrated in Michigan and Ohio, which collectively have nearly 52,000 jobs at 125 manufacturing and research facilities.
However, the political jousting over the Energy Information Administration’s recently completed study of government benefits to oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear and renewables suggested that the debt deal is likely to reboot the springtime clash over energy subsidies in the latter half of this year. Concern grew among transportation advocates and congressional staffers that Republicans will attempt to use the gas tax as leverage in the fight over the competing transportation proposals. The federal gas tax could become the next confrontational issue that Democrats and Republicans push to the brink, a concern heightened after House and Senate disagreements caused the furlough of 4,000 FAA workers.
Pressure over the Ozone standard continued to grow, as business groups sent a letter to Obama on Thursday from scores of national and state-based groups and businesses, such as state-based chambers of commerce, API, the American Farm Bureau, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and others appealing to EPA and the White House directly to back off and wait until the next scheduled review of the ozone standard in 2013. On August 11 nine Senators sent a letter to President Obama expressing disappointment in the delay of a strong Ozone standard.
Despite moves by the Administration to show its ability to make progress despite dynamics in Congress, many in the climate movement questioned the decision of who to put on the deficit-cutting supercommittee.
A dozen environmental groups, including Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and Friends of the Earth, issued a letter on Tuesday urging the 12-member panel to come up with a proposal “that focuses both on cutting wasteful subsidies that harm the public interest and raising significant revenues” and advocating that congressional leaders who support slashing oil industry tax breaks and other subsidies should be appointed. But according to analysis by ThinkProgress, a majority of the members on the congressional special fiscal committee oppose regulation of global warming pollution. In the Senate, every Republican and Democratic Senator Max Baucus have voted to reverse the EPA’s work to limit GHG pollution. Only Senator Kerry and Senator Murray have been “unequivocal about their efforts to fight greenhouse gas pollution.” And in the House, groups criticized Boehner’s decision to appoint Congressman Upton, who has been a vocal critic of EPA regulations, to the committee. As League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski said in a statement, “Congressman Upton has sided with Big Oil at every opportunity during the 112th Congress, voting to protect their unnecessary subsidies while working to block the EPA’s ability to hold these corporate polluters accountable. With the economic future of the nation hanging in the balance, we hope he will not let his loyal campaign contributors sway him from allowing these exorbitant taxpayer handouts to be ended once and for all.”
As our nations lawmakers headed off to vacation, founder and chief strategist of asset-management firm GMO, Jeremy Grantham, dispensed advice for U.S. leaders to ponder in their days away from Washington, arguing that the link between the current crisis and climate change, couldn’t be clearer – the market is in fact “sending us the Mother of all price signals,” warning us that “if we maintain our desperate focus on growth, we will run out of everything and crash.”
Michelle Dixon, Outreach Director