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Sep 082011
 

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

The US Chamber of Commerce has released a six-point plan to get America working again.

This should be good news for green energy — because wind, solar and geothermal projects all create jobs in America that cannot be outsourced, in addition to reducing pollution and developing leading technology that can make the US competitive around the world.

Developing the technologies for these new energy sources not only helps power the US grid with local power, it creates new manufacturing avenues for American businesses and workers.

These green jobs help keep the US in the global competition to hone green tech and develop more efficient ways of generating energy to power cars and homes. Already renewable energy employs hundreds of thousands of Americans.

But, green energy doesn’t appear to be a focus of the Chamber’s plan.

The Chamber does mention green energy as part of a Project/No Project initiative that aims to “streamline” permitting for all types of energy projects — coal, nuclear and renewable energy. This project takes aim at local opposition or NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) opposition to projects that has resulted in stalling or stopping 351 projects, including nuclear power plants, coal power plants, wind farms and in a couple cases, solar projects across the country. It calls out stalled projects state by state. Checking Texas, there were 11 coal plants, four nuclear power plants and three gas plants stopped by local opposition or regulatory issues; as well as four wind and one solar project also sidelined by NIMBY opposition.

It’s unclear from the report if neighborhood opposition was the only or main reason the project was withdrawn or stalled, or if the poor economy also contributed to projects that were benched in say, 2008.

And let me just say, there are times that NIMBY-ness gets out of control. When Cape Cod residents fretted about the tiny white dots they’d see on the horizon with the Cape Wind offshore project, one couldn’t help but think, man, get over it, there’s going to be some effect with any energy project; which would you rather have, an oil well poised to sully your pricey beach enclaves or white dots on the horizon that will never spill anything toxic? (I’d be far more sympathetic to those fighting coal plants, whose emissions are measurably harmful. Nor am I happy about the benzene-emitting, methane-producing gas well in my own backyard.)

So, yes, permitting can be extremely frustrating for developers, and can sideline valuable projects.

But it’s only one hurdle to getting a project done. Last week, during an interview with GreenRightNow, an industry advocate for renewables identified two main stumbling blocks to building new projects. Neither involved permitting. The top two difficulties cited by his industry members:  1) The lack of consistent support from Congress for tax credits, and 2) The lack of an national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) that would assure investors of a consistent and favorable national policy.

These two requests — for durable tax credits and for a RES — are well known to those in green energy. When Congress has stopped incentives, or renewed them for only a year or two, it’s drastically affected development. The American Wind Energy Association even has a chart that shows how uncertain federal support has created boom-bust cycles for the industry.

AWEA and green energy leaders across the sector have been arguing for years that more consistent national signals would help them attract and hold capital.

This is something that the Chamber, which is all about private investment, could relate to. But the Chamber jobs plan offers no shout out for green energy tax credits or a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) — even though both would promote job growth.

Considering that the Chamber’s plan is presented as an economic map forward, the omission is startling. Green energy is the future of energy and could someday lift the US from its dependence on oil, both foreign and domestic.

It could help cleanse the atmosphere of the climate-warming carbon emissions that come from burning fossil fuels.

Yet the Chamber’s letter to the White House and Congress outlining its plan pushes several ways that fossil fuel exploration or processing could be employed to create jobs, even though all of these efforts come with huge environmental risks and do little to prepare our workforce for the future.

Instead of using the current recession as an opportunity to transform the economy, it advocates for a deeper dive into the energy sources that are jeopardizing our future.

Here’s what the Chamber throws its support behind:

  • Fracking for natural gas
  • Increased off-shore oil drilling
  • Opening public lands to oil and gas drilling
  • The controversial trans-continental Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Canada to Houston refineries.

This is no surprise to those who follow the protect-the-status-quo US Chamber of Commerce, a loyal booster of the American oil and chemical industries which lost members in recent years over its rigid positions.

But while the oil permeating the Chamber’s plan may be predictable, it’s still indefensible. We might need fossil fuels to keep our economy running today — and there are immediate jobs to be had in these projects. But continuing to favor finite, polluting energy sources over renewable green energy could soon commit the US to second-tier status as a nation, a place willing to consume its dwindling natural resources while missing a critical opportunity to remain competitive globally.

Let’s hope other groups offer plans as well to create more sustainable jobs that keep America in the green game.

Here then, is the US Chamber’s plan.

US Chamber of Commerce Plan for Expanding the US Economy

Expanding trade and global commerce

  • Passing three pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama could create 380,000 jobs;
  • Modernizing export controls and could help create 340,000 jobs;
  • Expand U.S. exports by advancing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and initiate trade talks with the EU, our largest commercial partner, to eliminate all barriers to goods traded with Europe;
  • Protect 19 million IP-related jobs by cracking down on rogue websites and passing patent reform legislation.

Producing more American energy

  • Opening up offshore resources could help create 144,700 jobs;
  • Expanding access to federal lands for oil and gas exploration could add 530,000 new jobs;
  • Promoting development of natural gas in resource-rich shale would create 116,000 jobs (in Pennsylvania alone);
  • Approve the Keystone XL pipeline connecting Canadian oil fields to refineries in Texas, a project that would support 250,000 jobs.

Speeding up infrastructure projects

  • Pass surface transportation, aviation, and water resource bills to enable communities to plan, hire, and prevent layoffs;
  • Remove documented obstacles to 351 stalled energy projects, which could help create 1.9 million jobs annually;
  • Removing impediments to private capital could add 1.9 million new jobs over 10 years;
  • Fully implement the Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPC) Program, which could create 35,000 jobs a year.

Welcome tourists and business visitors to the United States

  • Remove the hassle factor by expanding the visa waiver program and streamlining the visa application process;
  • Promote American destinations and restore the U.S. share of the travel market to its 2000 level, which could help create 1.3 million jobs by 2020.

Streamlining permitting and provide regulatory certainty and relief

  • Get job-creating projects moving;
  • An executive order prohibiting discretionary regulations with a substantial economic impact would give businesses certainty and help spur hiring;
  • Take up to $1 trillion in accumulated private capital off the sidelines and into business expansion by eliminating uncertainty caused by burdensome regulations.

Pass job-creating tax incentives

  • Implementing a repatriation holiday and could lead to 2.9 million jobs over two years;
  • Create a corporate capital gains tax window in order to free up capital for investment and job creation.

Read the Chamber’s detailed six point plan for job creation for yourself.

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