A Dozen Reasons for Clean Energy

Dan Weiss and Erica Goad present 12 reasons why the Senate should pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

Cooling towers for geothermal power rise above the barren desert at Raser Technologies' Thermo Power Plant.
<br /> (AP/Douglas C. Pizac)
Cooling towers for geothermal power rise above the barren desert at Raser Technologies' Thermo Power Plant.
(AP/Douglas C. Pizac)

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) recently announced that she plans to introduce her version of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, H.R. 2454, immediately following August recess. “The bill will be introduced when we get back,” Sen. Boxer told reporters. “We’re going to use the extra time we have to make it the best it can be.”

And what will that bill look like when she introduces her version of the bill? Sen. Boxer was coy, telling E&E News only saying that “I think the majority of the allocations will be spelled out,” meaning that the bill would have a distribution plan for the pollution allowances for ratepayer rebates, trade sensitive industries, and other recipients.

The House of Representatives in late June passed its clean-energy jobs and global warming bill. It would require utilities to generate electricity from the wind, sun and other renewable sources, reduce energy demand via efficiency, and require all major emitters of greenhouse gases to buy an allowance for every ton of pollution they emit. It is essential that the Senate follows the lead of the House by swiftly enacting comprehensive clean energy legislation to create jobs, cut our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, and reduce pollution to protect our planet.

To help focus the Senate on the importance of Sen. Boxer’s forthcoming legislation, here are 12 key reasons why the Senate should act on the House passed American Clean Energy and Security Act.

1. It would create 1.7 million new jobs

The legislation would create 1.7 million new jobs by unlocking billions of dollars in industry and public investment because of measures included in the House legislation and the economic stimulus legislation passed earlier this year, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. According to a recent University of Massachusetts report sponsored by CAP, these job gains would be enough to reduce the unemployment rate in today’s economy by about one full percentage point. John Doerr, one of the nation’s leading venture capitalists, told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee: “These policies are straightforward; we’ve seen them work in states and in other countries. In Denmark, policies, including prices on carbon and building and appliance efficiency standards, have made a huge difference since 1970. It started their wind industry. Today, one-third of all terrestrial wind turbines in the world come from Denmark. And Denmark’s energy technology exports were more than $10 billion. That’s from a country with a smaller population than Missouri, Tennessee or Michigan. It has resulted in jobs; last year, the unemployment rate in Denmark last year was only 2 percent.”

2. It would reduce oil use

According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy the House bill would save at least 240 million barrels annually of oil. Since our dependence on foreign oil threatens our national security, reducing oil use would not only be better for the environment but for the safety of the American people.

3. It would reduce electric bills

The Environmental Protection Agency determined recently that the American Clean Energy and Security Act would lead to a 7 percent decline in electric bills due to energy efficiency measures by 2020. The report noted that “increased energy efficiency and reduced energy demand simultaneously reduces primary energy needs by 7 percent in 2020, 10 percent in 2030, and 12 percent in 2050.” By 2020, the efficiency standards in the bill would save consumers $29 billion. The average family would save $84 per year in lower electricity bills. This means that consumers would be spending comparatively less on their utility bills simply because the houses they live in would be less wasteful. 

4. It provides special protection for low-income households

The Congressional Budget Office projects that households with an average income of $18,000–in the lowest income quintile–would see an average net benefit of $40 annually by 2020. The clean-energy legislation would also sell some pollution allowances and use the money to provide additional assistance to low income households to help pay for their energy bills if necessary.

5. It would cost the average household a postage stamp per day

The cost of a nationwide carbon cap-and-trade program would ultimately amount to an average of $175 per household annually, or about the cost of a postage stamp per day.  Along with this estimate, the CBO emphasized that the figure “includes the cost of restructuring the production and use of energy and of payments made to foreign entities under the program, but it does not include the economic benefits and other benefits of the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the associated slowing of climate change.”

6. It would spur investments in clean energy

A number of large energy companies including Exelon Corp., Symantec Corp., PSEG Inc., and others support the American Clean Energy and Security Act “because certainty and clear rules of the road enable us to plan, build and innovate our businesses. It would drive investment into cost-saving, energy-saving technologies, and would create the next wave of jobs in the new energy economy."

Inducements to invest include a nationwide renewable energy standard that requires energy companies to generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2020, and requires utilities to reduce electricity demand by 5 percent via efficiency measures. The legislation also provides a total of $190 billion through 2025 for investments in clean energy, efficiency programs and deployment of top-notch energy technologies.

7. It would create new income streams for farmers

There is great potential to generate clean energy in rural areas. The Department of Energy estimates that if 5 percent of the nation’s energy comes from wind power by 2020, rural America could see $60 billion in capital investment. Farmers and rural landowners would derive $1.2 billion in new income, and see 80,000 new jobs created over the next two decades. Leasing land for a single utility-scale wind turbine could provide a farmer with about $3,000 a year in income.

According to Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, agricultural lands have the potential to store the equivalent of one-third of the carbon pollution produced in the United States. The Consortium for Agricultural Soils Mitigation of Greenhouse Gases of Colorado State notes that “increasing soil carbon through soil carbon sequestration improves agricultural soil quality, fertility, and productivity…while reducing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.”

The Energy Information Administration has estimated the value of agricultural offsets to be close to $24 billion annually. Farmers have the ability to reap benefits from leasing their land and from agricultural carbon offsets. For example, a new 107-megawatt wind farm in Minnesota yielded $500,000 per year in lease payments to farmers.

8. It would protect farmers from energy-related price increases

Agriculture is exempt from the greenhouse gas pollution reduction requirements in H.R. 2454. It also includes a provision to aid farmers should they face a reduction in purchasing power due to higher energy costs (see Title IV, Section 432 of the House bill). Under the bill, rural residents so affected would become eligible for monthly cash refunds.

9. It would protect energy intensive, trade-sensitive industries

The American Clean Energy and Security Act allocates 15 percent of its pollution allowances to industries that use significant amounts of energy and face international competition. This provision would protect them from competition from lower cost imports from countries that do not have greenhouse gas pollution reduction programs. This includes the cement, paper, chemical, aluminum, and steel industries. Estimated total value of the near-term allocation pool is around $100 billion by 2020, with the allowances for trade-sensitive industries consisting of $13 billion by 2020.

10. It would cut greenhouse gas pollution

The 17 percent reduction in carbon pollution required by 2020 would cut 2.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2020 compared to inaction. Removing that much carbon is comparable to taking 500 million cars off the road, which is twice the number of U.S. cars today, and half the cars expected in the world in 2020.

The bill would shrink deforestation as well, which is essential because tropical forests help to absorb greenhouse gas pollution and remove atmospheric carbon. A small percentage of emissions allowances are set aside for projects in other countries that would reduce deforestation. The EPA estimates that the allowances to reduce deforestation would reduce pollution by one billion tons annually by 2015—equivalent to taking over 200 million cars off the road.

11. It would create a safety net for displaced workers

In the unfortunate event that some workers lose their jobs in high polluting industries, the bill has a $150 million workforce retraining program (Title IV, Subtitle B in the House bill). A worker can also petition the Secretary of Labor for payment of 70 percent of lost wages for three years, as well as job training, and health care premium payments.

This program is similar to the one in the Clean Air Act of 1990. This program authorized $250 million annually to the Job Training Partnership Act to retrain coal miners who lost their jobs due to demand reductions for high sulfur coal, which was responsible for acid rain pollution. Actual job losses were 75 percent lower than predicted, with a grand total of 2,363 people applying for aid so program costs were much lower. This would likely occur under the greenhouse gas pollution reduction program, but it is important to provide this safety for those who may be affected.

12. The American Clean Energy and Security Act is widely supported

Nuclear power companies, a civil rights organization, and a utility trade association have little in common. Yet the Nuclear Energy Institute, the NAACP, and the Edison Electric Institute all support prompt comprehensive action to create clean energy, reduce oil use, and cut carbon pollution. The American Clean Energy and Security Act is a comprehensive, consensus bill that is supported by businesses, labor unions, and civic organizations. It supporters include the following businesses, labor unions, faith groups and civic organizations.

Electric utilities and energy companies

Alstom Power
American Electric Power
Austin Energy
Constellation Energy
Duke Energy
Edison Electric Institute
FPL Group
National Grid
NRG Energy Inc.
Nuclear Energy Institute
PG&E Corporation
PNM Resources
Renewable Fuels Association
Shell Oil

Manufacturing, industry and business

American Chemical Society
Applied Materials
BP Solar
Business Council on Sustainable Energy
Calpine Corp.
Dow Chemical
Dow Corning
John Deere
Johnson & Johnson
Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers
Levi Strauss
National Semiconductor
Rio Tinto
Seventh Generation
Solar Power Industries


Communications Workers
Laborers International
Services Employees I.U.
Utilities Workers Union

Farm and agriculture

American Corn Growers Association
American Farmland Trust
Growth Energy
National Association of Wheat Growers
National Farmers Union
Renewable Fuels Association


Baptist Pastors and Theologians
Catholic Relief Services
Evangelical Climate Initiative
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Disciples Justice Action Network (Disciples of Christ)
General Board of Church and Society
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
National Council of Churches USA
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington Office
Progressive National Baptist Convention
The Episcopal Church
The United Methodist Church,
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

Community, civic, and environment

American Institute of Architects
American Public Health Association
American Rivers
Attorneys General of California, Arizona and New Jersey
Center for American Progress Action Fund
Clean Water Action
Climate Communities / ICLEI-Local
Defenders of Wildlife
Environment America
Environmental Defense Fund
Governments for Sustainability USA
HipHop Caucus
International Forum on Globalization
Izaak Walton League of America
Latino Coalition
League of Conservation Voters
League of Women Voters
National Association of Clean Air Agencies
National Audubon Society
National Congress of American Indians
National Parks Conservation Assn
Natural Resource Defense Council
National Wildlife Federation
Oxfam Oceana
Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Pew Environment Group
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Sierra Club
The Nature Conservancy
The Wilderness Society
Trout Unlimited
Union of Concerned Scientists
United Nations Foundation
US Conference of Mayors
Woods Hole Research Center
World Resources Institute
World Wildlife Fund

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Daniel J. Weiss

Senior Fellow