News Analysis: House Economic Stimulus Package Allots $100 Million For Green Spending

An economic stimulus package has made it through the House with about $100 billion for environmental projects. The US Senate is expected to vote on their version of the bill this week. The Allegheny Front's news analyst, Ann Murray, joins Host Matthew Craig to talk about what a big infusion of green spending could do for the environment and economy.

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OPEN: An economic stimulus package has made it through the House with about $100 billion for environmental projects. The US Senate is expected to vote on their version of the bill this week. The Allegheny Front's news analyst, Ann Murray, joins me to talk about what a big infusion of green spending could do for the environment and economy.

M: What kinds of green projects would get money as a result of this package?

A: It would include direct spending for projects like clean energy and efficiency programs, clean water infrastructure, weatherization of homes, green energy retrofits on public buildings and public housing.

M: What about public transportation? Where does that fit into this bill?

A: There's about 14 and a half billion dollars for transportation. Pennsylvania's transportation sector is the state's second largest global warming contributor behind electricity so this spending is seen as very important by state environmentalists.

M: What about money that would be used for tax credits for green projects?

A: This bill added $20 billion in renewable-energy and energy-efficiency tax credits and related incentives.

M: The House version goes to the Senate this week. How do political analysts think green spending will fare in the Senate version of the stimulus package?

A: Observers don't think that money for environmental projects and tax incentives will be as generous as the House version. For examples, the Senate has only appropriated about eight and a half billion dollars for public transportation compared to more than $14 billion in the House bill.

M: But the Senate bill is projected to include almost $70 billion more in overall spending so it's a considerably bigger spending package than the House bill. So even proportionately, the Senate could be offering less for environmental projects.

A: Yes, that's right. The House has a contingent of members - including Speaker Nancy Pelosi - who have been advocates of using environmental projects as a way to turn the economy around.

M: There are complaints from some environmental groups that the Senate package includes $50 billion for the nuclear industry. How would that money be used?

A: The $50 billion would be used as loan guarantees for the development of new nuclear facilities. New plants are currently being considered but plans are hampered because of the expense of building reactors. Proponents of this part of the Senate stimulus bill say they can kick start the rebirth of the nuclear industry here in Pennsylvania. Groups that object to this spending counter by saying that it takes years and years to even get nuclear facilities permitted so jobs wouldn't materialize for maybe a decade.

M: Does the coal industry make any inroads in these stimulus bills?

A: The Charleston Gazette reports that the Senate nearly doubled the money in the House version. That's about $4 and a half billion for development of "near zero emissions" power plants and carbon sequestration at industrial facilities.

M: How could Pennsylvania benefit from green spending in the proposed stimulus bill?

A: Penn Environment says there are a bunch of local projects throughout the state, that could be funded by the stimulus bill including renewable energy projects, green energy development areas, public transportation upgrades. Adam Garber with Penn Environment says these are part of shovel-ready project lists from local and state government, but not guaranteed funding.

M: What are some examples?

A: In Philadelphia, there's a project for retrofitting 12,000 homes for higher energy efficiency. Here in Pittsburgh, an unfunded project to use LED lighting in ball parks and public buildings could get federal money through this package.

M: What kind of environmental benefits are we talking about with these kinds of projects?

A: According to Penn Environment's analysis of the bill's provisions on energy efficiency, the $6.2 billion investment in the Weatherization Assistance Program will reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 12 million tons nationwide, create 465,000 new jobs over two years and meet President Obama's goal of weatherizing two million homes.

M: So what's not to like here?

A: Some opponents, including many Republican representatives call this spending ìgreenî pork. The House version of the stimulus package was passed strictly along party lines. Other observers point out that in the rush to pass a stimulus bill that makes billion-dollar bets on new energy technologies, some of those bets could end up being misplaced.

M: This stimulus package isn't the end of possible green spending by the federal government, is it?

A: No, there will be an energy bill that will be put together after the stimulus package.

M: Before we wrap up, I wanted to ask about a state court judge's decision to rule Pennsylvania's state specific Mercury law "invalid and unenforceable."

A: The Rendell administration came up with the rule in 2006 after the US EPA weakened a federal mercury emissions law. The state's rule would require reductions in mercury emissions at coal-fired power plants in the state with a target of 90 percent reduction by 2015. The state rule was based on the federal mercury law which was invalidated. State Court Judge Dan Pellegrini decided that because the federal law is invalid so is Pennsylvania's stronger emissions law. The state Department of Environmental Protection is weighing its legal options to appeal this decision.
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M: We'll have more on our website, including a list of Pennsylvania's green projects could be funded and more on the mercury law ruling. Thanks, Ann.

A: You're welcome.