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Jobs And Energy

Senate considers some dozen bills with a strong tie between jobs and energy

by Jeff Johnson
December 21, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 51

Credit: Courtesy of Debbie Stabenow
Credit: Courtesy of Debbie Stabenow

Citing the importance of jobs in the face of continued high unemployment, several senators primarily from industrial states are pushing a legislative agenda that encourages energy technology development and deployment but has a clear emphasis on creating new energy jobs.

This jobs and energy nexus was the focus of a hearing on Dec. 8 before the Senate Energy & Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Energy, where nearly a dozen bills were discussed, each intended to further the energy agenda.

The hearing was chaired by Sen. Maria E. Cantwell (D-Wash.), who joined several senators at the hearing in paying particular attention to a bill extending tax credits for clean energy manufacturers that was part of President Barack Obama’s stimulus package, passed earlier this year (C&EN, Feb. 16, page 7).

That new bill, S. 2857, provides a 30% tax credit for investments in clean energy manufacturing. It is similar in size to the stimulus package funding that provided $2.3 billion in tax credits and will run out next month. Senate supporters say the bill has the backing of the President, who may include the fund’s extension in a jobs package under development by the Administration and Democratic congressional leaders.

“We are working hard to extend the credit,” Cantwell said, and “launch a new wave of clean energy manufacturing facilities around the country.” Pushing the jobs angle, she said, some 315,000 new jobs in the solar industry alone could result.

Her goal, Cantwell said, was to prop up U.S. clean energy manufacturers and stop them from moving overseas, taking U.S. jobs to foreign countries. Global competition for energy jobs was a point made often during the hearing.

Citing Department of Energy figures, committee member Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said China spends $288 million a day in developing and supporting clean energy technologies.

“Shame on us,” she said, “if in this new energy revolution we are not creating jobs here in America, shame on us if we let these jobs go overseas. We need to make things in this country. We need to create jobs and strong businesses and put people back to work.”

Along with S. 2857, Stabenow singled out support for the Advanced Vehicle Technology Act of 2009 (H.R. 3246, S. 2843) which would expand and extend DOE’s vehicle R&D programs. It authorizes some $3.6 billion in spending between 2010 and 2014 to help transform Rust Belt companies, she said, and to encourage advanced technology manufacturers. According to Stabenow, there are some 700 automobile equipment suppliers in Michigan that could profit from the bill.

Stabenow also pointed to her support for a bill authored by Sen. Sherrod C. Brown (D-Ohio). That bill, S. 1617, would create a $30 billion revolving loan fund to help manufacturers retool their factories and create new jobs.

Stabenow distinguished these bills from other technology bills by their focus on rebuilding the U.S. industrial base by helping manufacturers retool factories. These projects, she said, will help manufacturers hire workers and “get their boots on the ground” with jobs at retooled factories.

In concept, DOE supports the bills, said Energy Undersecretary Kristina M. Johnson, who appeared at the hearing. Johnson herself comes with a strong technology portfolio as an electrical engineer who holds 45 U.S. patents; she’s also the former provost of Johns Hopkins University.

Although supportive, she sought to protect DOE from infringement on its role and limits on how it makes decisions or allocates funds. For instance, while she appeared to support H.R. 3585, a bill that would provide $2 billion in solar funding over four years, she did not support provisions in the bill that created a semiautonomous advisory committee outside DOE to help direct DOE solar R&D. She viewed the bill, the Solar Technology Roadmap Act, as a restriction on the agency; the advisory committee, she said, would be a hindrance to DOE’s authority and would constrain its decision-making ability.

Others bills discussed at the hearing are listed below:

■ The Green Energy Education Act of 2009 (H.R. 957) would encourage DOE to provide funding to the National Science Foundation for university-level education in energy R&D for advanced technologies for building design and construction.

H.R. 2729 would authorize the designation of National Environmental Research Parks by the energy secretary at seven DOE labs and provide $5 million in annual funding.

■ The Wind Energy R&D Act of 2009 (H.R. 3165) would increase federal commitment to R&D projects to the tune of $200 million annually for five years.

S. 737 would amend the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007 to authorize the secretary of energy to conduct research, develop, and demonstrate biofuels that are more compatible with small nonroad engines.

S. 1617 would require the commerce secretary to establish a program to award grants to states to establish revolving loan funds for small and medium-sized manufacturers to improve energy efficiency and produce clean energy technologies.

S. 2744 would amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to expand the energy secretary’s authority for awarding technology prizes, including financial awards, for separation of carbon dioxide from dilute sources.

S. 2773 would require the energy secretary to carry out a program to support the research, development, and demonstration of commercial applications for offshore wind energy.

The bill approval process is just getting under way in the Senate, but several of these bills have passed the House of Representatives. With the President’s and Congress’ growing concern over jobs, however, approval of job-related energy bills could come quickly.



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