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Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act: Effective or Political Fluff?

Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) have introduced legislation to create green jobs, reduce U.S. pollution levels and lessen our dependence on foreign energy sources. The bill, dubbed the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, is in part an answer to similar legislation passed by the House of Representatives in June.

Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

The bill has more to do with reducing global warming pollution than with increasing renewable energy production specifically, although the two go hand-in-hand. Significant sections of the bill dealing with renewable energy and energy efficiency are as follows:

  • Section 161: Directs EPA to establish a program to provide grants and other assistance to renewable energy projects in states with renewable portfolio standards.
  • Section 162: Directs EPA to establish a program to provide grants for research and development into advanced biofuels.
  • Section 163: Requires the EPA administrator or other agency designated by the President to set a national goal for improvement in building efficiency and to establish a rule defining national energy efficiency building codes for residential and commercial buildings.
  • Section 164: Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance Program would be established to provide allowances to states to conduct cost-effective building retrofits. States may use funding to finance up to 50% of costs involved in energy efficient retrofitting. 10% of funding must go to public or assisted housing. Nothing in this section would require a homeowner to audit or retrofit their home to ensure compliance with code requirements.

The bill would also authorize the EPA to provide grants to support R&D of “innovative energy technologies.”

Reduction of Global Warming Pollution Goals

While it doesn’t set a national renewable portfolio standard, the bill does outline goals for reduction of global warming pollution. Under Title VII and Title VIII of the bill, economy-wide pollution reduction goals would be set at: 97% of 2005 levels by 2012, 80% by 2020, 58% by 2030, and 17% by 2050. Simply put, the bill would reduce pollution levels by 20% by 2020.

Green Jobs

Sections that deal solely with green job creation outline three programs:

  • Authorizes the Secretary of Education to award competitive grants to “eligible partnerships” to study emerging careers in clean energy, renewable energy, energy efficiency, climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation.
  • Requires the Secretary of Labor to develop an internet-based information resource on career and technical education and job training programs for renewable energy.
  • Establishes a Green Construction Careers demonstration project to promote careers in the green building sector.

It seems that any monetary value has yet to be given to these programs. Senator Kerry described the bill in a press release as a “security bill that puts Americans back in charge of our energy future and makes it clear that we will combat climate change with American ingenuity.” Senator Boxer added, “We know clean energy is the ticket to strong, stable economic growth… Let’s not quit until we have fulfilled our responsibility to our children and our grandchildren.”

It is the typical enviro-political rhetoric, and only time will tell how the bill comes out in the end as it traverses the murky water of the U.S. Congress - almost certainly not as it appears today. Initially at least, the bill makes some fairly bold requirements of polluters. It should be noted that the bill does support carbon sequestration (i.e. clean coal) as a solution in addition to renewable energy and efficiency.

Should pollution reduction goals make it through as they stand now, they will have quite an impact. The US emits one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases (only recently falling behind China in that category), though our population is the size of only 5% of theirs. Reducing our pollution levels by 20% before 2020 would be a challenge that would no doubt boost residential solar power production (and thus green jobs) to a significant extent.

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