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October 16, 2012 / Todd Larsen

Bernie Sanders and Tom Coburn agree on something: Clean energy matters to the US

It’s not often that Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a very liberal member of the Senate, and Republicans like Charles Grassley,  John Thune, and Tom Coburn  agree, but one thing they clearly agree on is the need for more clean energy in the United States, and that the US Government needs to play a role in developing it.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), member of the committees for both energy and the environment, recently wrote an article for environmental non-profit Grist which was posted on their website this morning. In the article, Senator Sanders details the current problems with energy subsidies in the United States and suggests that more funding for wind and solar, along with less funding for oil and gas, would go a long way towards securing our energy future. Though green energy has become politicized leading up to the election with talk of the government picking energy “winners and losers,”  Senator Sanders stresses the need for Congress (Democrats and Republicans) to act in support of these important advances in clean energy technology.

Senator Sanders starts by pointing out the major flaw behind the “picking winners and losers” argument; namely that it is actually big fossil fuel and nuclear companies that are receiving the bulk of government funding when it comes to energy. According to the nonpartisan Joint committee on Taxation, $113 billion in federal subsidies will be handed out to fossil fuel companies over the next decade. This comes on the heels of companies like ExxonMobil not paying any federal income tax in 2009 and BP taking a large tax deduction on the cleanup of the Gulf oil spill. Meanwhile, the current Congress has not extended the 1603 grant program, which has supported thousands of clean energy projects and tens of thousands of American jobs. The brinksmanship over the Production Tax Credit (PTC) extension has already ended numerous energy projects and cost the US thousands of jobs.

Senator Sanders highlights projects that have already been successful in improving our domestic energy situation. He correctly points out that one of the biggest problems we face is the excessive amounts of energy used by businesses and individuals, which is why he helped introduce the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants Program. This program helps communities improve their energy efficiency by providing LED light bulbs and building retrofits that save energy and taxpayer dollars. Weatherization has also been an important focus of the program; it has helped save over one million families an average of $916 a year on their fuel costs while providing installation and manufacturing jobs to construction workers.

Senator Sanders also highlights the important strides that have been made in the field of solar energy, which includes new technology that has helped cut the cost of installed solar energy in half since 2008. There are also currently over 100,000 jobs at 5,600 solar companies across the country, with many being supported by recent advances in solar technology. Some of the most recent solar plants have been estimated to produce enough energy to power over 100,000 homes. Wind energy has experience a similar surge since 2008, thanks in part to the stimulus spending that many members of Congress were so strongly opposed to. There are now over 75,000 jobs in the wind energy sector and about 50,000 megawatts installed capacity (or the equivalent of 50 nuclear plants).  Government support played a big role in these advances, and the loss of government support puts jobs and progress in jeopardy.

Bernie Sanders is not alone in supporting a transition to a cleaner energy portfolio. A recent article from the New York Times shows that some of the biggest supporters of wind energy are actually Republican Senators. Charles Grassley of Iowa and John Thune of South Dakota are both vocal supporters of wind energy and the extension of the production tax credit. They cite the fact that wind farms and manufacturing plants in their states have produced thousands of jobs and an undeniable boost to local communities. According to Grassley, “This is still an infant industry even after 20 years, and probably for three or four more years it’s going to need a tax incentive to become a mature industry. Do you want alternatives to fossil fuel or don’t you? If you want alternatives, they’re not going to get started if they can’t compete.”

The Senate Finance Committee approved the renewal of the production tax credit for another year after a bipartisan 19-5 vote. Even budget hard-liners like Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn expressed a desire to keep the subsidy around for another year, albeit at a reduced rate. The fact that even some the most fiscally conservative Senators are in favor of a clean energy tax credit goes to show the level of support that clean energy is starting to achieve in Congress.

Research and writing by Matt Jennings

 

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