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February 18, 2009

Analysis: President Obama's New Green Stimulus Law



President Barack Obama signed into law Tuesday a bill that is truly green in more ways than one. It is not only the most ambitious and arguably much needed economic stimulus measure since the Great Depression but is also one of the most far-reaching pieces of environmental legislation in decades.
 
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) contains $787 billion of investments and tax cuts. Of this sum over $70 billion is directed to green activities including increasing energy efficiency, electricity grid modernization, renewal energy, mass transit and high-speed rail, and environmental cleanup.
 
There is also over $7 billion to expand broadband in rural areas. These provisions can be considered as green measures as they would enable more telework, distance learning, e-commerce, and telemedicine. Virtual travel uses less energy, alternatives to driving and taking transit, which consume more energy, leads to greater amounts of pollutants and consume larger areas of greenspace.
 
The Sierra Club’s Allegheny Group, Pennsylvania Chapter has published most of the green extracts of ARRA on its web site. The highlights include:
 
*          $4.5 billion for the repair of federal buildings to increase energy efficiency using green technology
 
*          $11 billion for smart-grid related activities, including work to modernize the electric grid and smart grid grants
 
*          $6.3 billion for energy efficiency and conservation grants

*          $5 billion for the Weatherization Assistance Program

*          $2.5 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy research

*          $2 billion in grant funding for the manufacturing of advanced battery systems and components and vehicle batteries produced in the U.S.
 
*          $6 billion for new loan guarantees aimed at standard renewable projects such as wind or solar projects and for electricity transmission projects
 
*          $1 billion for energy efficiency programs including alternative fuel trucks and buses, transportation charging infrastructure, and smart and energy efficient appliances
 
*          $8.4 billion for public transportation

*          $9.3 billion for investments in rail transportation, including Amtrak and high-speed rail
 
*          $4 billion to the public housing capital fund to enable local public housing agencies to address a $32 billion backlog in capital needs, especially those improving energy efficiency

*          $6 billion to cleaning up former weapon production and energy research sites

*          $1.38 billion to support $3.8 billion in loans and grants for needed water and waste disposal facilities in rural areas
 
“This is a historic and unprecedented investment in clean energy, green jobs and green infrastructure,” is how Melinda Pierce, Sierra Club’s lead advocate for the bill and Deputy Director of National Campaigns reacted to the bill. “This monumental bill revolutionizes our government’s approach to clean energy and will finally transform our economy into something that works for the 21st century. With these investments and incentives in clean energy, efficiency and smarter infrastructure, we will be able to literally rebuild the American economy in a way that not only creates jobs but sets us on the path to a clean energy future.”
 
CURRENT Group, which supplies smart grid technology, praised the legislation. A smart grid is an intelligent system that incorporates widely distributed sensors and employs real-time communications to automatically sense and correct inefficiencies and disturbances on the electrical distribution system.
 
“Smart Grid produces the most near-term and long-term jobs per dollar spent of any clean energy provision in the stimulus package,” explains CURRENT President and CEO Tom Casey. “In fact, job creation starts with the stimulus itself, as companies prepare and gear up to apply for and receive funding, generating as many as 150,000 sustainable jobs within the first year of funding. CURRENT's solutions are available today and we are ready to work with utilities across the nation to deliver on the President's job recovery program with Smart Grid projects that are shovel-ready.”
 
The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), which has long spearheaded the battle for intercity rail and mass transit funding also praised ARRA. NARP has been fighting for several decades to obtain adequate rail investment against the billions of tax dollars poured into convenient but less energy-efficient and more environmentally-damaging air and highway transportation.
 
“President Obama and the U.S. Congress deserve high praise for producing legislation that—by properly recognizing the value of passenger and freight trains—finally begins to move transportation policy in a genuinely new direction,” says NARP President Ross Capon.
The Telework Coalition (TelCoa), a Washington, D.C.-based telework information organization, supports the new law but wants it followed up with federal incentives to encourage more businesses to adopt telework that would light up the expanded broadband network and put more traffic onto the existing and wide open existing virtual highways.
 
 “Broadband telecommunications and on-line educational programs are most effective when there is a telework job available at the home end of the line,” says TelCoa President and CEO Chuck Wilsker (News - Alert). “With broadband and telework, we no longer need to apply physical transportation ‘solutions’ to address economic/employment, energy, or environmental issues.  Mainstreaming comprehensive telework opportunities is the quickest, most effective means to provide employment opportunities to a great number of people without forcing them to daily leave their communities.”
 

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Tim Gray

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