Employment is a clear priority in the current environmental policy debate; whether laws regulating energy usage will help or hurt the job market is where the discussion heats up. Last week in Indianapolis, events held by the American Energy Solutions Group and MoveOn offered opposing visions of the impact federal energy legislation could have on Indiana employment.
Both groups sought to bring attention to the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454), House legislation presented as a comprehensive solution "to create clean energy jobs, achieve energy independence, reduce global warming pollution and transition to a clean energy economy," by sponsor Rep. Henry Waxman of California.
The bill proposes a cap and trade system, which would require American companies to use a minimum standard of renewable electricity, increasing each year to 25 percent by 2025 - or buy an exemption via one of a limited number of permits. The theory, according to the EPA Web site, is that cap and trade programs "reward innovation, efficiency and early action and provide strict environmental accountability without inhibiting economic growth."
However, ACES has been criticized by environmentalists for having low environmental standards and by conservatives for excessive government control.
The American Energy Solutions Group is a coalition of Republican congressmen, chaired by Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, who oppose ACES. Last Wednesday, Pence's group held an "Energy Summit" in Indianapolis to argue that the bill would function as an excessive tax, causing large increases in unemployment and energy costs.
The event was one of four held around the country, but the Indianapolis summit seemed to hold strategic regional importance for Pence, who repeatedly reached for the Indiana audience by calling the bill "an economic declaration of war on the Midwest by liberals in Washington." The panel was certainly focused on this economic aspect, with little discussion of the actual environmental issues at stake. As Rep. Bob Latta of Ohio said, "I think the topic we've all gotten down to is jobs."
In his testimony, Indiana Rep. Steve Buyer explained that "Indiana would be one of the most impacted states under this legislation" as 96 percent of Indiana electricity comes from coal.
Gov. Mitch Daniels reinforced this point, stating that the legislation is "not good for America and hazardous for Indiana." He said, "I strongly identify with the goals that the proponents of this bill say they do, but believe there are far better ways to get there."
Marty Irwin, witness and director of the Indiana Center for Coal Technology Research, acknowledged the EPA's belief that the bill would create more green jobs, but claimed those new jobs would be outweighed by the manufacturing jobs lost. Daniels argued that the bill would affect Indiana's economic attractiveness, and lamented "the businesses that won't grow here or won't come here if energy becomes dramatically more expensive."
The Hoosier Environmental Council disagrees on this point, and argues that Indiana is already losing business because the state lacks the environmental standards that attract green companies and manufacturers. They also contest Irwin's claims that new energy methods lead to unemployment in the manufacturing sector. In their fact sheet, "Clean Energy Action at the Federal Level," HEC cites that "more than 1,300 Hoosier manufacturing firms could be re-tooled to create 40,000-plus renewable energy manufacturing jobs" - a number that would give Indiana the second highest potential for such jobs, per capita, out of the nation's 30 top manufacturing states.
Beyond the debate over the legislation's potential employment effect, the AES Group also critiqued the science and strategies behind the bill. Rep. Dan Burton said that the bill's measures "will not make a substantive impact on the environment." All of the panelists also seemed to strongly advocate for nuclear power and "clean coal."
Witness Christopher Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute said, "We burn coal so cleanly now. Coal is a target because we have so much of it, not really for any other reason."
Tim Maloney, senior policy director for HEC, points out that the panelists did not discuss the higher cost of those two methods and the speculative nature of true "clean coal" technology.
The AES Group's hope is to defeat the bill, "go back to the drawing board and come up with an alternative," said Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, the leading Republican on the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.
Maloney commented that the panel "came across as a very one-sided view of clean energy that overlooked the benefits and value of diversifying energy supplies and all the job creation and economic benefits that come from it."
Green doesn't have to be expensive
Supporters of the bill agree that it is not ideal but feel that its benefits outweigh these concerns. Many environmentalists say that the bill's renewable energy standards are not tough enough, but would rather see some benchmarks than nothing and thus endorse the legislation. Joyce Wilkinson, council coordinator for MoveOn in Indianapolis, said, "I think it's a good first step, especially because Indiana is so far behind. I'd like to see this bill pass even though it's not up to what I think it should be."
Despite the details of which bill is best, political engagement non-profit MoveOn realizes that, as Rep. Latta said, the discussion keeps coming back to jobs. MoveOn's response? Hosting Clean Energy Job Days in nearly 100 American cities "to demonstrate the promise of the clean energy economy to Congress, the media and the public," says their Web site.
The Indianapolis event on May 28 focused on the green building business and featured speakers from Casa Verde LLC, Solstice Architecture, Inc., King Park Area Development Corporation and the Hoosier Environmental Council. Each speaker said that green building practices' innovation and efficiency are in high demand, allowing the industry to create jobs even in trying economic times.
Casa Verde, a local green real estate development company, took participants on a tour of their Gramse Building project, a renovation at 22nd and Broadway that will refurbish the 1915 building into 13 one- and two-bedroom condos. The project combines LEED certified green building with historic preservation and low/moderate income affordable housing. David Kadlec of Casa Verde said they were able to take on the project because of grant money available for building to LEED standards.
Kadlec spoke of the project's local job creation, and said it is "providing income for a few hundred people." In a time when few real estate projects are moving forward, Kadlec said, "I'm convinced we wouldn't be building right now if our projects weren't high performance green."
Casa Verde also built Indy's first LEED Gold certified home, a three-story building currently serving as their headquarters at 2129 Park Ave. Green features such as demand water heating, zoned air and high-performance foam insulation add a 3 percent increase in cost to the building, but the extra efficiency results in utility bills under $100 per month. These savings will balance out the extra initial cost within a few years and continue to save money for homeowners. "Green doesn't have to be expensive," Kadlec says. "It's just a good idea."
Architect Sam Miller of Solstice Architecture, Inc., agreed that green "changes are not a threat, but a business opportunity that will be accelerated by the legislation going through Congress."
The ACES bill was approved in the Energy and Commerce Committee by a 33-25 vote on May 21. It has been placed on the House of Representatives calendar of business.