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Clean Energy and Climate Protection Bill Accelerates Electric Vehicles and Renewable Energy

Posted Jun 30 2009 3:50pm

For the first time, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation regulating greenhouse gases. Due to intense lobbying by industries that would incur added cost, such as coal powered utilities, HR 2454 barely was approved by a vote of 219 to 212. New battles are ahead in the Senate for the Waxman-Markey Bill.

HR 2454 encourages more electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and advanced batteries to be developed and commercialized in the United States. Should HR 2454 become law, cities will more rapidly roll-out convenient electric charging stations. If you want to buy a car with better mileage you will even get more cash for your clunker - $3,500 to $4,500 until March 31, 2010.

The bill is also a win for United States energy security. HR 2454 explicitly states, “The status of oil as a strategic commodity, which derives from its domination of the transportation sector, presents a clear and present danger to the United States…Fuel competition and consumer choice would similarly serve to end oil’s monopoly in the transportation sector.”

The bill has something for everyone. Cleantech innovators get the free luxury health spa; while fossil fuel curmudgeons, a free colonoscopy.

The Waxman-Market Bill puts a limit (“cap”) on greenhouse gas emissions. Overtime industry must pay for permits to pollution. Innovation will be rewarded because clean organizations can sell their carbon credits to help polluters meet their limits.

The market place will work with cap-and-trade. Some of the pollution permit fees will be reinvested in our future. Clean innovators will flourish and create more green jobs. To help automakers retool plants for these advanced vehicles and/or drive system components, the $25 billion of funding in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 will double in HR 2454 to $50 billion.

Automakers are more likely to succeed with their electric vehicle and plug-in plans for 2010 through 2012. For example, Ford (F) will start selling electric cars, vans, and a plug-in Escape. GM will start selling the plug-in Volt and now has 80 to demonstrate; Toyota (TM) will start selling its plug-in Prius and is putting 500 into fleet demonstration; Chrysler with Fiat as a key partner will sell everything from plug-in Jeeps to minivans; Nissan is partnering with electric utilities to sell more electric vehicles than the rest of the automakers put together.

Electric utilities are asked in HR 2454 to develop infrastructure plans that can optionally include fast charging, a nice win for companies such as AeroVironment (AVAV) and Better Place. Smart charging and smart grid infrastructure plans are requested from state regulators. An intelligent network will develop so that you can plug-in anywhere, be able to remotely view your state of charge and check your billing – a nice win for firms such as Coulomb Technologies. If the bill becomes law, look for utility-local government-NGO consortiums to apply for funding to implement smart-grid solutions that include smart charging stations.

Financial incentives are envisioned for commercial and federal fleets, car sharing firms, and others who can accelerate the deployment of these electric zero-emission and ultra low emission vehicles.

From cars to electric-rail in public transportation, we are beginning to shift from running on engines that burn petroleum fuels to running on efficient electric motors. Thanks to HR 2454, that electricity will be increasingly renewable. Wind, solar, geothermal, small hydro, renewable biomass, and other renewable energy produced in the United States will all be encouraged by the incentives inherent in carbon cap-and-trade.

The Waxman-Markey Bill, of course, is about much more than electric vehicles and renewable energy. It provides a major step towards greater energy security, energy efficiency, and climate solutions of which clean transportation is a component.

The close vote shows that the bill has opponents. Many question whether we even have an environmental problem. As Dan Quayle once observed, “”It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.” Others are opposed to putting a cap on emissions. As George W. Bush put it, “What I am against is quotas. I am against hard quotas, quotas they basically delineate based upon whatever. However they delineate, quotas, I think, vulcanize society. So I don’t know how that fits into what everybody else is saying, their relative positions, but that’s my position.”

Environmental groups offered a mixed reaction due to the many compromises and addendums that were necessary to secure a majority vote. The Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp stated, “”The bill that emerged from the House has the fundamental structure we need to significantly reduce carbon pollution while growing the economy. It puts a strong cap on emissions and reorients our energy market to make low-carbon power the goal. It ensures that utility rates will stay affordable and a competitive playing field for U.S. companies.”

Greenpeace opposes the compromised bill, “President Obama vowed to ‘restore science to its rightful place’ in his inaugural address….The Waxman-Markey climate legislation, however, will not do what the science says is necessary to avert the worst effects of climate change. In fact, House Democrats have worked extensively with the coal industry to edit the bill, which has translated into weakened emissions targets.”

Other groups supported the bill in the hopes that it would be strengthened. Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council stated, “But the work is far from over. Now, the bill will move to the Senate where it needs to be strengthened, so we can reach the full potential of our clean energy future and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. We can achieve this by strengthening the targets for carbon pollution.”

What all nations put in the sky and the oceans affects all of us and all of our children. Given the United States long history of being the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, nations have hoped that we would reduce emissions 40 percent by 2020. They will be lucky to see 17 percent. The new bill puts us in a weak position as we pursue a global climate solution treaty that involves all nations, but it takes us out of the category of obstruction as Copenhagen meetings continue.

Yet, reality is that with all the competing interests in our nation of 300 million people, we will not go directly to the energy and climate solution that is needed. We cannot kill the good in search of the perfect. As Jane Goodall observed, “Lasting change is a series of compromises. And compromise is all right, as long your values don’t change.”

When we get past all industry scare tactics, we may end up spending an extra $20 per month for cleaner electricity until we finally replace those old light bulbs. We may also save $200 per month by running cleaner cars and save another $200 per month avoiding doctor and hospital bills to deal with damaged lungs. Clean Energy and Climate Protection are not expenses, they are investment in our future - a future that includes our riding on sunlight.

By John Addison. John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and speaks at conferences. He is the author of the new book - Save Gas, Save the Planet - now selling at Amazon and other booksellers.
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