Senate Dems unhappy with level of energy funds in Obama stimulus plan

We don’t have a lot of details on the stimulus, but what is starting to come out is distinctly unimpressive on the clean energy side. Yes, it is a big deal that Obama said yesterday: “We will double the production of alternative energy in the next three years.”

But now we learn from E&E Daily (subs. req’d) that “the president-elect’s team said they were currently eyeing $10 billion worth of energy-related tax incentives in the package, out of an expected $300 billion in tax provisions in the bill overall.” No suprise, then that Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said “Energy is way under-represented here in the package that has been discussed.”

Here is the full story:

Senate Democrats yesterday called on President-elect Barack Obama to increase the amount of energy-related spending and tax breaks in the planned economic stimulus bill.

In a closed-door meeting with Obama economic adviser Larry Summers and senior adviser David Axelrod, several Senate Democrats said they were unhappy with the proportion of the stimulus dollars and tax breaks directed toward energy projects. At the same time, several members questioned whether some of the tax breaks Obama is seeking would be effective in creating jobs and spurring economic recovery.

“Energy is way under-represented here in the package that has been discussed,” said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) after the meeting. “We need to do much more in reducing our dependence on foreign energy and that way lies enormous job creation for the country as well.”

The meeting came hours after Obama delivered an address in which he touted alternative energy development and energy efficiency as a major part of his effort to pull the country out of the economic crisis. He vowed to double the production of alternative energy during the next three years, retrofit more than 75 percent of federal buildings and 2 million homes to make them more energy efficient and to build a “smart” electricity grid.

But the president-elect did not attach dollar amounts to his energy proposals and upon seeing some of the details of the proposal, Conrad said that it was obvious that more spending and tax incentives needed to be directed to those areas.

“Clearly they heard that there are perhaps changes that need to be made to made to get greater confidence that this package is going to be fully effective and that it is going to give the biggest bang for the buck, and that energy is right at the top of the list,” Conrad said.

According to Conrad, the president-elect’s team said they were currently eyeing $10 billion worth of energy-related tax incentives in the package, out of an expected $300 billion in tax provisions in the bill overall. “Ten billion on a $300 billion dollar package when energy is the number one opportunity for us in terms of strengthening our long-term economic position?” Conrad asked.

While specific energy tax provisions that will be included in the stimulus remain unclear, renewable energy and efficiency advocates are pressing for a range of provisions including extending the production tax credit for wind power that expires at the end of this year and extending and expanding credits for home and building efficiency.

Tax breaks or infrastructure programs?

The comments from Conrad and several others mark the first public fissure between the Obama team and congressional Democrats over the stimulus bill and may hint of a looming tug-of-war between the White House and Capitol Hill over the exact provisions of the legislation.

“I’m very confident that some adjustments are going to be made,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). “We positively, absolutely in my judgment, need to spend more on energy and I made that point and will continue to make that point.”

Last year, Congress approved and President George W. Bush signed a wide-ranging, roughly $17 billion energy tax package that was grafted onto the $700 billion Wall Street rescue package.

Lawmakers said there were no discussions in the meeting about specific energy projects or tax provisions, only a broad expectation from several that there needed to be a change in the ratio spent on energy and infrastructure investment versus tax breaks for individuals and businesses.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that the broad outline provided by the Obama administration called for a stimulus bill where 40 percent of the amount is directed toward tax cuts, 40 percent is direct investment in various initiatives and 20 percent is money handed out to the states.

But some questioned whether the tax cuts in the plan would be as helpful to creating jobs as construction projects and other more direct spending plans.

“The focus ought to be on roads, bridges and transportation systems,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Referring to the tax rebate stimulus approved by Congress last year, Wyden said, “The idea of going forward with an approach that to some extent resembles stimulus one, where you give people a few hundred bucks, does not strike me as a good way to go.”

Wyden added that some GOP lawmakers have also signaled that they would like to see a package that leans more heavily on the kind of direct investment also pushed by Senate Democrats. “There would be bipartisan support for retooling the package to skew it more toward energy investment,” he said.

Senate Democratic leaders tried to downplay the apparent split between much of their caucus and president-elect’s team, saying the discussions are part of the standard give-and-take that takes place between the executive and legislative branches.

“There’s not a violent reaction against it, but you have people saying, ‘Would you consider this as an option?'” Durbin said. “This is part of the conversation you expect at this stage.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made it clear that he did not believe Obama officials were unwilling to change their proposal to alleviate some of the concerns raised by members of Congress.

“There is nothing that is written in stone,” Reid said. “Barack Obama has never said he will give us this bill, and that’s what we’ll take.”

Indeed, even Democrats that were critical of the proposals said the meeting was constructive. “This was a very, very good meeting, a very substantive meeting,” Conrad said. “They clearly got the message, and Mr. Summers summed up by saying ‘message received loud and clear.'”

Others, however, when asked about the administration’s reaction to Democrats’ concerns said they were unsure if their recommendations would be taken to heart.

“I don’t know, I’m a little concerned by the way Mr. Summers and others are going at this in that to me it still looks like a little bit of ‘trickle down,'” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). “A number of people in there said we have to have programs that actually create jobs and put people to work.

“And quite frankly what I’m hearing from Mr. Summers and others is that they’ve got a different view, a different approach,” Harkin said.

Senate Democrats did leave the meeting saying that they were on the same page with the Obama administration on the sense of urgency surrounding the bill with several adding that they believed they could get the bill to the president’s desk by mid-February.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) yesterday also set a deadline of mid-February to complete the stimulus bill, vowing to keep the House in session through the Presidents’ Day recess if the legislation is not finished. A Pelosi aide said the tentative schedule calls for committee markups to take place the week of Jan. 19, with floor action likely the following week.

Senate leaders have been less willing to put in place a specific timeframe, though Baucus told reporters yesterday that he expected the relevant Senate committees — Finance and Appropriations — to also mark up their portions of the bill during the week of Jan. 19.

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4 Responses to Senate Dems unhappy with level of energy funds in Obama stimulus plan

  1. paulm says:

    Its just a cover to keep everyone happy.

  2. It is just that the American people, including Joe Romm, are so unrealistic. There is really nothing that can be done until people start realizing what the reality is. For example: NASA says wind is a 15% solution at best. The existence of some wind energy for a few poeple doesn’t mean there is enough wind energy for everybody. See:

    [JR: How am I unrealistic? Who ever said wind is the only answer? I thought you read this blog.]

  3. Here is that article from
    minus the graphics.:
    Large images [On the original web site. If you look at the images, you see that the best wind is at very INconvenient locations, like near Antarctica and in the North Pacific ocean.]

    “Wind energy has the potential to provide 10 to 15 percent of the world’s future energy, according to Paul Dimotakis, chief technologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Once windmills are installed, wind can be converted to electricity inexpensively. But not everyone likes wind farms. The giant collection of whirling blades mars scenic views and can kill birds and bats, particularly if located in a high-traffic flyway. To minimize these risks, one solution may be to place wind farms in the ocean. Wind tends to blow stronger over the ocean than over land. The ocean presents a smooth surface over which wind can glide without interruption, while hills, mountains, and forests tend to slow or channel wind over

    But, as any sailor could tell you, wind over the ocean isn’t consistent. In some places, the air is still, while in others, the wind blows fiercely. To identify potential wind farm locations, NASA scientists Tim Liu, Wenqing Tang, and Xiaosu Xie, all at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, mapped out average wind intensity over the ocean between 2000 and 2007. They created their maps from data collected by NASA’s Quick Scatterometer (QuickSCAT), which measures wind speed and direction over the world’s oceans. The satellite sends pulses of microwave energy through the atmosphere to the ocean surface and measures the energy that bounces back from the wind-roughened surface. The energy of the microwave pulses changes depending on wind speed and direction. The scientists averaged QuikSCAT’s measured wind speeds by season, and then calculated the wind power density, the amount of energy that could be derived from a wind turbine in a given location. Their maps for the winter and summer seasons are shown here.

    Wind strength is influenced by seasonal patterns, land-ocean interactions, land topography, and ocean temperatures. All of these interactions are evident in this pair of images. Areas of high wind power density, where winds are strongest, are purple, while low power density regions are light blue and white.

    The largest patterns shown in the images are seasonal patterns. In December, January, and February, winter storms fuel strong winds in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. In June, July, and August, winter reigns in the Southern Hemisphere, and the pattern is reversed. The Asian monsoon also controls the seasonal distribution of wind. In June, July, and August, strong winds gust across the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. From December to February, the monsoon winds blow over the East China Sea. Finally, the trade winds trace their way across the tropics, stronger in the winter than in the summer.”

    In places where the land and the ocean interact to generate strong winds, the wind power density is more consistent. Winds accelerate as they deflect around a bit of land sticking into the ocean. This feature is most obvious off the southern tip of South America, which has high wind potential in both summer and winter. The effect occurs in other locations, such as off Tasmania, New Zealand, and northern California, and is easiest to see in the summer when seasonal winds are calmer.

    The spot of brilliant purple in an otherwise calm ocean off the Pacific coast of Central America in December, January, and February is an example of strong winds created by the topography of the land. In Central America, as in other places, mountains channel the wind, creating a natural wind tunnel that sends strong gusts over the ocean.

    The final wind pattern shown in this image is the wind created by the ocean itself. Warm ocean currents naturally warm the air above them. When ocean currents carry warm water into an area of cool water, or vice versa, the temperature difference in the air generates wind. The clearest example in these images is the Gulf Stream, which snakes up the east coast of the United States and east over the North Atlantic. In both winter and summer, winds are stronger over the Gulf Stream than the surrounding ocean.
    Liu, W.T., Tang, W., and Xie, X. (2008, July 8). Wind power distribution over the ocean. Geophysical Research Letters, 35 (L13808).
    NASA. (2008, July 9). Ocean wind power maps reveal possible wind energy sources. Accessed July 15, 2008.

    NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using data provided courtesy of Timothy Liu,
    Wenqing Tang, and Xiaosu Xie, NASA/JPL. Caption by Holli Riebeek.

  4. I have an idea for a way to increase the number of solar roofs being put up, by eliminating the need for getting financing.

    I think it would be an unlimited stimulus, yet not cost anything: it’s just legislation.

    (hint: it’s not a feed in tariff, not a tax credit, not a renewable portfolio standard, not cap and trade)

    Let me know what you think: