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Obama, Congress Craft Green-Economy Jobs Plan


By John M. Broder
San Francisco Chronicle
December 4, 2008


The details and cost of the so-called green jobs program are still
unclear, but a senior Obama aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to
discuss a work in progress, said it probably would include the
weatherizing of hundreds of thousands of homes, the installation of
so-called smart meters to monitor and reduce home energy use, and billions
of dollars in grants to state and local governments for mass transit and
infrastructure projects.

The green component of the much larger stimulus plan would cost at least
$15 billion a year, and perhaps considerably more, depending on how the
projects were defined, aides working on the package said.

During the campaign, Obama supported a measure to address global warming
by capping carbon emissions while allowing emitters to buy and trade
pollution permits. He said he would devote $150 billion of the revenue
from the sale of those permits over 10 years to energy efficiency and
alternative energy projects to wean the nation from fuels that are the
main causes of the heating of the atmosphere.

But the Obama adviser who discussed the green energy project said Obama
would not await passage of a global warming bill before embarking on the
new energy and infrastructure spending. House and Senate supporters of a
climate bill said they would continue working on legislative language but
did not expect quick action on a cap-and-trade law because of the economic
emergency.

That means the green-jobs program would not be financed with pollution
credits bought by power generators and other carbon emitters, but instead
would be added to the budget deficit.

Congressional officials working with the Obama administration said the
stimulus program also is likely to involve tax breaks or direct government
subsidies for a variety of clean energy projects, including solar arrays,
wind farms, advanced biofuels and technology to capture carbon dioxide
emissions from coal-burning power plants.

The programs will be part of a larger economic stimulus package whose
outlines are faint but which is expected to cost $400 billion to $500
billion. Obama has said that his goal is to create or save 2.5 million
jobs in the next two years. He has assigned to his economic and
environmental advisers the task of devising a proposal that is expected to
combine a shot of new federal money into existing federal and state
programs and the possible creation of new agencies modeled on New Deal
public works programs.

"We'll put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges,
modernizing schools that are failing our children, and building wind farms
and solar panels, fuel-efficient cars and the alternative energy
technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep
our economy competitive in the years ahead," Obama said in a radio address
last month, echoing a campaign promise.

The political climate seems favorable to an economic stimulus plan, but
large sums of new money touch off lobbying frenzies, and energy projects
spark debate between conservationists and those who want to more fully
exploit domestic sources of oil, natural gas and coal.

Some experts said the record of government's intervention in energy
markets and new technologies is not promising, citing as a spectacular
example the Carter-era Synthetic Fuels Corp., which spent more than $3
billion without producing any commercially usable amount of coal-based
liquid fuel.

Ethanol and other non-oil-based fuels also have not proved their
commercial value, in some cases yielding less energy than was needed to
produce them, or, in ethanol's case, diverting land to corn and driving up
food prices.

The plan also could face resistance from fiscal hawks. In 2004, Sen. John
McCain, R-Ariz., almost single-handedly blocked a $100 billion energy
package, saying the billions of dollars in subsidies for ethanol and other
alternative fuels were little more than a special-interest boondoggle. The
bill was revived a year later at half the cost, and much of the money in
it has not been spent.

The Obama team and congressional leaders say they want a plan ready
shortly after Congress reconvenes in January.

 

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