Last week, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) -- a bill that will fire the starting gun in the race to build America's clean energy economy and solve global warming. The bill begins to lay the groundwork for a future powered by the wind and sun -- energy sources that won't run out, don't harm our environment and will only grow cheaper over time. We applaud Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ninth, for voting for it.
The bill would reduce U.S. global warming emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and by 83 percent by 2050. In addition, the bill commits the United States to achieving additional emission reductions through agreements to prevent deforestation. The bill would establish strong minimum targets for commercial and residential building codes of 30 percent energy savings starting in 2010 and 50 percent savings for residential buildings starting in 2014 and for commercial buildings in 2015.
"The bill begins to lay the groundwork for a future powered by the wind and sun."
These improved building standards will save consumers $25 billion a year by 2030. And the bill would provide money to state and local governments to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Additionally, the bill would establish the Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance program, which will set performance standards for existing buildings and provide incentives of up to 50 percent of the cost of residential and commercial energy efficiency upgrades. Plus, the bill would establish a program to label the energy performance of all buildings.
Realizing that energy efficiency shouldn't stop at buildings, the bill would also establish standards for commercial and consumer lighting and light fixtures, water dispensers, hot food-holding cabinets, portable spas and commercial furnaces. By 2020, these standards would lead to savings of 17 billion kilowatt hours, enough to meet the needs of 1.5 million typical households and reduce power sector carbon dioxide emissions by 12 million metric tons per year, according to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project.
But the bill can and must do better to unleash the potential of clean energy to transform our economy, put millions of Americans back to work and solve global warming.
Unfortunately, Big Oil, Dirty Coal, other polluters and the members of Congress who do their bidding, weakened the bill in ways that will delay the economic and environmental benefits of clean energy and missed an opportunity to make a real change in the nation's energy policy.
The bill's Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) was watered down to the point that it will not require the nation to use more renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, compared with what we will already achieve through state standards and through investments from the economic recovery bill passed earlier this year.
"Unfortunately, Big Oil, Dirty Coal, other polluters and the members of Congress who do their bidding, weakened the bill."
Considering the utilities exempted from the standard, the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that the RES could generate as little as 8.3 percent renewables by 2020. Yet, the Department of Energy projects the nation will achieve 9.9 percent renewables by 2020 under policies already in place. Again, this means we will not be receiving any new renewable energy under this plan.
Another way the RES has been watered down is the addition of coal mine methane and municipal solid waste (MSW) to the list of energy sources that could be used to meet the standard, though neither is renewable. MSW plants would be required to meet Clean Air Act standards for new plants and could only be counted if the municipality from which the waste comes "provides for recycling."
While protecting certain critical areas on public lands, the bill also would open up the rest of our national forests for providing biomass fuels. Also, the bill would allow generation from new nuclear power plants and coal-fired power plants with carbon capture and storage to be subtracted from the baseline amount of utility power sales against which the renewable energy increases are measured.
Coal and nuclear are not renewable sources of energy and should not be allowed to offset the amount of renewable energy generation required by an RES.
In addition to a watered down RES, the bill allows global warming polluters to purchase offsets rather than reduce their own pollution, which will result in less-certain emission reductions and delay the transition to cleaner technology. The bill also fails to require polluters to pay for their pollution.
"Coal and nuclear are not renewable sources of energy."
Given the huge opportunity before us, the science on global warming and the dire state of our economy, these are delays that neither the environment nor the economy can afford.
Again, we applaud Rep. Hill for supporting this crucial first step to a clean energy future. As the bill moves to the floor of the U.S. House, now is the time for bold and meaningful action to transition our economy to a clean energy economy and solve global warming.
We urge Rep. Hill and the rest of Indiana's Congressional delegation to strengthen the bill as it moves forward.
LuCinda Hohmann is the Midwest Field Organizer for Environment America. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.