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The President’s budget makes critical clean-energy investments

By Joe Romm

"The President’s budget makes critical clean-energy investments"

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Clean-energy investments in the president’s budget would help kick start the economy and build sustainable, long-term growth.  CAP’s Daniel J. Weiss has the details in this repost.

After eight years of sparse investment in the clean-energy technologies of the future, President Barack Obama launched a crash program at the start of his presidency last year to create clean-energy jobs and catch up to our economic competitors who grew their clean-energy industries while Bush slept. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act began this task by investing $70 billion in clean-energy technologies and adopting $20 billion in clean-energy tax cuts, and President Obama’s proposed fiscal year 2011 budget would continue to build on these investments.

The ARRA programs will create more than a million new jobs, increase American energy independence, and cut global warming pollution. ARRA will double the amount of renewable electricity in the United States by 2012, weatherize 1 million low-income homes so that they are more energy efficient, and double domestic manufacturing capacity for wind turbines, solar panels, and other clean-energy equipment.

President Obama’s proposed FY 2011 includes larger investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and advanced research, despite the budget freeze and reductions in other discretionary spending programs. This budget would create jobs, increase American energy independence, cut global warming pollution, and make our economy more competitive.

Proposed FY 2011 budget increases for critical efficiency and renewables programs

2010 actual (in millions) 2011 proposed (in millions) Percent change
Advanced Research Projects Agency?Energy There was no 2010 appropriation for ARPA-E; $400 million included in ARRA $300
Advanced vehicle technologies $311 $325 +5%
Energy efficient building technologies $222 $231 +4%
Solar $225 $302 +34%
State Energy Program grants $50 $75 +50%
Weatherization $210 $385 +83%
Wind $80 $123 +54%
Total $908 $1,741 +92%

The proposed budget would also eliminate taxpayer subsidies for big oil companies. The big five oil companies””BP, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell””made profits totaling $656 billion during the eight years of the Bush administration. In 2009, they made an additional $67 billion in profits (with Shell fourth-quarter profits projected). The last thing these companies need is billions of dollars of taxpayer-funded loopholes

The proposed budget would eliminate tax loopholes that would cost $36.5 billion from 2011 to 2020. This is nearly half of what the big five oil companies made in profits in 2009 alone. In 2005, President Bush opposed tax breaks for big oil companies, noting that, “with $55 oil we don’t need incentives to oil and gas companies to explore.”

Tax loopholes eliminated in the proposed FY 2011 budget

Savings in billions, 2011-2020
End expensing of intangible drilling costs $7.8
Repeal of domestic manufacturing tax credit $17.3
Repeal percentage depletion allowance $10
Elimination of other tax loopholes $1.4
Total $36.5

The budget notes that, “[it] is counterproductive to spend taxpayer dollars on incentives that run counter to this national priority. To further this goal and reduce the deficit, the Budget eliminates tax preferences and funding for programs that provide inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that impede investment in clean energy sources and undermine efforts to deal with the threat of climate change.”

Another area covered in the budget is a plan to develop a more effective nuclear waste disposal process. The transportation and disposal of high-level nuclear waste remains a major environmental threat. The proposed Yucca Mountain storage facility poses a real risk of truck accidents or railroad derailments that could cause catastrophic nuclear waste spills en route. Yucca is also too small to store nuclear waste produced in the future. The budget therefore states that, “The Administration has determined that Yucca Mountain, Nevada, is not a workable option for a nuclear waste repository, and will discontinue its program to construct a repository at the mountain in 2010.” The FY 2011 budget would eliminate $197 million for Yucca compared to the 2010 budget, while providing $98 million to wind the program down. It would also spend $5 million for a blue ribbon commission to develop alternatives for high-level nuclear waste disposal.

President Obama’s first proposed budget, for FY 2010, included assumptions about revenue and expenditures from a global warming pollution reduction program. This approach does not work for FY 2011 because Congress is in the midst of passing comprehensive, bipartisan clean-energy and global warming legislation. The House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, H.R. 2454 last year, which would reduce global warming pollution by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. It uses a different mechanism than the proposed budget to make its pollution reductions compared to the FY 2010 budget proposal, so it would generate different future revenues and expenditures.

The Senate plans to debate its own comprehensive, bipartisan clean-energy and global warming bill this spring. It too may take a different path to achieve a 17 percent pollution reduction below 2005 levels by 2020.

Because Congress is in the middle of crafting its clean-energy and global warming legislation, it makes little sense for the proposed FY 2011 budget to include revenue and expenditure predictions from a greenhouse gas pollution reduction program that hasn’t passed yet. The FY 2011 budget instead includes a global warming placeholder that assumes that the global warming pollution reduction program will be revenue neutral, neither adding nor subtracting from the federal budget deficit. The budget states that the program should be deficit neutral because, “proceeds from emissions allowances will be used to compensate vulnerable families, communities, and businesses during the transition to a clean energy economy. Receipts will also be reserved for investments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including support of clean energy technologies, and in adapting to the impacts of climate change, both domestically and in developing countries.”

In fact, the Congressional Budget Office projects that two pending global warming bills would reduce the federal deficit. ACES would reduce red ink by $9 billion from 2010 to 2019, while the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, S. 1733, would slash the deficit by $21 billion during this period.

One down side of the president’s budget is that it includes a misguided expansion of nuclear loan guarantees. The Obama administration proposes to triple funds for nuclear loan guarantees from $18.5 billion to $54 billion. This huge growth exposes taxpayers to billions of dollars of potential liability if the nuclear debtors default on their loans. The Congressional Budget Office found that nuclear investments are very risky, stating, “CBO considers the risk of default on such a loan guarantee to be very high””well above 50 percent.”

Even if this risk factor is cut in half, one in four nuclear power plants would default on their loans due to cost overruns or other factors, leaving taxpayers to pick up the tab. And there are already indications that this could occur. Taxpayers for Common Sense found that none of the four “top-tier” project proposals for the existing loan guarantee program inspire confidence. All have “rising cost estimates, delays related to reactor designs, and credit downgrades.”

The proposed tripling of the nuclear loan guarantee program burdens taxpayers with additional financial risk. This proposal is also dubious political strategy because it provides huge subsidies for nuclear power without securing the support of pronuclear senators for comprehensive, bipartisan global warming pollution reduction legislation. Many of the nuclear industries biggest backers””including Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), John McCain (R-AZ), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)””refuse to support comprehensive, bipartisan clean-energy and global warming legislation. Providing additional goodies for the nuclear industry unconnected to such a bill makes little political sense.

The Obama administration defeated a proposal last year by Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) to increase nuclear loan guarantees to $50 billion. The administration was right to oppose this high-risk, low-reward proposal. The Obama administration should withdraw its risky nuclear loan guarantee proposal that helps the nuclear industry without getting a deal on comprehensive, bipartisan global warming legislation. Failing that, Congress should reject it while it embraces the other clean-energy proposals in this budget.

Like the rest of the proposed FY 2011 budget, the clean-energy investments largely reflect President Obama’s commitment to restart our economy and restore long-term growth via investments in new and existing clean-energy technologies. This budget, without the nuclear loan guarantees, must be combined with comprehensive bipartisan clean-energy and global warming legislation. This two-pronged investment strategy is also essential to help keep up with our economic competitors such as China and Germany. As Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) noted, “Every day that we delay trying to find a price for carbon is a day that China uses to dominate the green economy”¦China has made a long-term strategic decision and they are going gang-busters.”

President Obama has done his part by proposing an FY 2011 budget that creates jobs and increases economic competitiveness. Now Congress must join him to enact this budget and comprehensive clean-energy legislation to speed emergence from the worst recession in 70 years.

‹ Energy and Global Warming News for February 2: Obama budget creates infrastructure bank, adds $1B for high-speed rail

Groundhog Decade: We’re stuck in a bad movie, where it’s always the hottest decade on record ›

6 Responses to The President’s budget makes critical clean-energy investments

  1. Question, Joe, how does the budget compare to when your were riding herd at Department of Energy EERE? And though ARRA was a great and unprecedented boost, isn’t it just a one-off with the three-year spending freeze announcement? So where will we get our “moon shot” for energy out of all this? The ARRA $90 billion begins to assemble the rocket and roll it to the launching pad. But after that large animal is digested the boa constrictor that is DOE,where is the follow-on? $1.74B is good, but it sure ain’t enough.

    [JR: It is a big shot in the arm. Quite different than 1990s. I need to look at the EERE budget first before I say more.]

  2. Neven says:

    Quote: “build sustainable, long-term growth”

    Joe, this is an illusion. The thing causing AGW and a host of other environmental and social problems is the neoclassical economic concept of infinite growth. This has permeated our culture in such a way that it has become as natural as breathing, but surely there must be some (capitalist) alternative?

    As long as this root problem isn’t tackled, Obama can go and create all the green jobs and technology he wants, but it will be for nothing. A little bit of Jevons Paradox here, some running out of resources that can’t be techno-fixed there, topped off by collapsing ecosystems, and the neoclassical economists’ perverse fantasy will come to a halt.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, make some room on your excellent blog for ecological or biophysical economics. Get to the root of the problem instead of prescribing remedies for symptoms.

    If anyone thinks what I’m saying has any merit, please read this excellent article by Britain’s Andrew Simms, policy director of NEF (the new economics foundation) or sign this important position at CASSE (Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy).

    [JR: Oh, I think "sustainable growth" is sustainable, and I am not being flip. It just looks different. I think I have blogged on this issue more than most. See "Ponzi scheme" post on right hand column.]

  3. Neven says:

    “I think I have blogged on this issue more than most.”

    I know you did, otherwise I wouldn’t be saying this (you being one of the few people in the blogosphere who would get this). :-)

    Sustainable growth isn’t sustainable (in fact, it’s a contradiction in terms) as long as it’s based on the neoclassical economic concept of infinite growth. So, though you’ve blogged about this many times, directly or indirectly, I would still – humbly – like to urge you to blog about it some more now and again, and be more specific in naming the problem (neoclassical) and point toward real solutions (biophysical/economical) that will eventually lead to sustainable development, not growth. You stop growing when you’ve turned big enough.

  4. Chris Dudley says:

    Joe,

    Any chance that inclusion of the loan guarantees in the budget is an indication that the climate bill will be done as a budget vote? The loans aren’t going to default for a decade or so so they don’t really have much of a place in the budget. It is really a sad statement about nuclear power that the 2005 program has not been tapped and that was supposed to be all that was needed to get nuclear power building again. Increasing the commitment just says that nuclear is not viable I think. Same for a blue ribbon panel for nuclear waste. Just more indication that the wheels have fallen off. Hum….

  5. Regarding the above comments by Neven.
    Limiting our global economic growth is essential. More even distribution of wealth must go along with it.
    Forty years ago I told friends that the standard of living of the US should not grow further since the world is working hard to copy us. I told them that there are not enough natural resources to elevate the world poor nations towards our wasteful way of life. Simply impossible to combine the population growth and the desire for US style standard of living. The most important thing was to distribute the wealth more evenly both in the US and globally.
    Over time this situation became even worse with rapid population growth and the ”economic awakening” of China, India and others.
    Now, a British study has detailed the critical need to limit global growth. The Club of Rome, via its MIT study, concluded the same thing in the seventies, but was ignored even by the environmental movement, as was the “Population Bomb.”

    Schumacher College
    Growth isn’t possible
    Why we need a new economic direction

    Full report: http://www.neweconomics.org/sites/neweconomics.org/files/Growth_Isnt_Possible.pdf

  6. Even if this risk factor is cut in half, one in four nuclear power plants would default on their loans due to cost overruns or other factors, leaving taxpayers to pick up the tab.

    Any evidence to back that up? We’ve already shown that the 50% default rate isn’t based on anything yet it’s still being cited here. Odd how this blog cries foul whenever someone still claims AGW isn’t real after you’ve rebutted them numerous times, yet when it comes to nuclear, this blog’s standards for accuracy go out the door…