Jeff Brady | NPR News | March 24, 2020 | www.npr.org
Clean energy and climate advocates say the huge stimulus bill Congress is negotiating should address not only the economy, but also climate change. But a split over that appears to have contributed to delays in passing the bill.
“Democrats won’t let us fund hospitals or save small businesses unless they get to dust off the Green New Deal,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday.
McConnell said Democrats were filibustering the $1 trillion-plus bill hoping to include policies such as extending tax credits for solar and wind energy.
Two trade groups, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), sent a joint letter to members of Congress last week saying that extending the credits “would allow our member companies to hire thousands of additional workers and inject billions in the U.S. economy.”
The share of solar and wind energy in the U.S. had been booming. But now, without help, the SEIA estimates the solar industry could see as much as 50 percent of residential solar jobs lost this year due to the pandemic. AWEA estimates $43 billion dollars of investments and payments, mostly in the rural communities where wind projects usually are built, is at risk.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is harming the wind industry’s ability to build the wind farms envisioned by Congressional legislation and putting at risk 35,000 wind energy jobs,” says Tom Kiernan, Chief Executive Officer of AWEA.
Eight Democratic U.S. senators also called on fellow lawmakers to tie financial help for airlines and cruise lines to new environmental requirements that would reduce their carbon footprints.
McConnell says this is the wrong time to debate policies like these, and the focus should be on addressing the effects of the pandemic. But others argue now is precisely the right time to think about climate change.
“We can both stimulate the economy … and we can lay the foundation for a lower-carbon future,” says economist Michael Greenstone, who served as the Chief Economist for President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.
In addition to renewable energy tax credits, Greenstone says the federal government should invest in electric vehicle charging infrastructure and deploying batteries to store electricity from intermittent sources like the sun and wind.
Advancing clean energy was a major focus of President Obama’s stimulus plan after the 2008 economic downturn.
So far, renewable energy advocates have struggled to get their priorities included in the Senate’s current stimulus legislation, even as help for the oil industry is showing up in draft versions.
The Trump administration wants $3 billion from Congress to fill the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve. That would help oil drillers hit hard by a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. That’s leading to a glut of oil on the market just as the coronavirus is reducing demand because people have stopped traveling.
The combination of a supply surge and demand decline sent crude prices down by more than half in the last three weeks.
Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette says his agency will buy up to 77 million barrels of domestic crude from small and midsize drillers. They are most at risk because many have borrowed money to expand and may now face bankruptcy.
“These businesses have been particularly hard hit by recent events, but under President Trump’s leadership we are taking swift action to assist hard hit producers and deliver strong returns to the taxpayer,” says Brouillette.
Industry analysts say it makes sense for the government to fill the reserve when prices are low, but environmental groups were quick to criticize the move.
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The most ambitious proposal of all from the environmental world is a $2 trillion “green stimulus,” which is co-authored by several advisers to Democratic presidential campaigns and endorsed by a variety of greens and academics.
In an open letter to lawmakers, dozens of greens and wonks offered a menu of policy options to boost the clean energy transition in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Taken together, the recommendations would essentially amount to a major climate policy package, including everything from a federal clean electricity standard to funding boosts for existing energy efficiency programs.
Many of the proposals – such as massively boosting the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy – are standard fare for climate advocates.
Overall, the $2 trillion initial stimulus would precede an annual spending program totaling 4% of U.S. gross domestic product “until the economy is fully decarbonized and the unemployment rate is below 3.5%.”
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Wind Industry's Recent Press Releases - COVID-19
Fresh from the American Wind Energy Association's website:
Protecting American jobs and clean energy investment during the COVID-19 pandemic
Clean Energy Sector Calls on Congress for Help Surmounting the Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic
American Wind Energy Association Releases COVID-19 Outlook
AWEA/SEIA letter to Congress outlining COVID-19 impacts