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dear mister schieffer...

Greg Harman
gharman@sacurrent.com

Though invisible in today’s tirade of talking points, the issue of creating “green-collar” jobs was once a mainstay of the Democratic Primary debates. Clinton, Edwards, and Obama were high on the notion of championing the Next New Deal for America and establishing the new energy economy.

In response to Al Gore’s call for rapidly moving the country off carbon-emitting energy sources, those innovators in the Googleplex have released their own national energy plan that takes the nation off petroleum and coal by 2030 while cutting greenhouse releases in half.

The company cites the U.S. Department of Energy on wind jobs, a burst of 292 GW representing 476,000 jobs. It’s a benefit Texas will be reaping the benefits of in the near future, as our already strong wind presence increases with a recently approved $4 billion transmission-line expansion for renewable development in West Texas.

Kicking solar up to 28 gigawatts by 2016 — another aspect of Google’s 2030 plan — would lead to an additional 440,000 jobs, a private contractor found.

But there’s potentially a major crimp in the hose of plenty. And it looms in the higher energy prices waiting to meet us as we cross the energy divide.

After a new president is sworn in on January 20, one of the first issues they will certainly tackle is the national energy policy. Both candidates are supporting cap-and-trade legislation for reducing carbon emissions by American industry. However, neither showed for the pivotal Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act vote this summer.

Despite problems in the bill — hundreds of millions to the coal industry and indirect benefits to nuclear power — it represented the most significant stab at necessary carbon reduction to date.

There are serious differences between an Obama or McCain presidency on cap-and-trade’s fine print. The Obama camp’s energy policy would require carbon credits to be auctioned off from the get go (pdf). A portion of those earnings to be used to help pay for biofuel and clean-energy development research.

McCain wants to give away, or greatly discount, that first round of pollution credits, allowing the “lowest-cost” compliance options, according to his website.Neither has the poor firmly in mind when it comes to this massively important shift in energy policy.

One thing their handlers should be doing is digging deep into the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ take on this last climate bill — specifically cap-and-trade’s needed low-income assistance.

Virtually any path forward from here, with tightening global demand on petroleum and the double-edged nature of our oil addition becoming clearer, will see energy rates rise for Americans. Even the DOE says increased domestic drilling will not drop our pump prices until 2030 — and then it will be minimal, if at all.

So, how will we help the poorest among us cross this sure-to-be-turbulent energy divide? One way is to factor it into cap-and-trade, says the CBPP.

Our analysis, using an approach developed by the Congressional Budget Office, finds that even a modest 15 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions would cost the poorest fifth of Americans an average of $750 a year per household. 

These households have average annual incomes of only about $13,000.The $750 figure is the cost before any action is taken to mitigate these effects and is a measure of what would happen if low-income households were left on their own to cope with the effects of higher energy prices.  (It is not an estimate of the impact of any particular legislation.)

Some opponents of cap and trade legislation have claimed that such legislation is inherently harmful to low-income consumers. That claim is false.  But to avoid that outcome, a significant share of the allowance value must be set aside for low-income consumers and delivered through effective mechanisms.
The group estimates that 14 percent of cap-and-trade’s earnings will offset the spike in energy rates. A good amount more will be needed if we are going to assist those whose incomes are in the more middling range.

To be fair, Obama has other assistance in place that factors in: job retraining and manufacturing sector retools, green jobs for returning vets. But nothing directly computed for weathering certain energy cost increases.

The McCain plan is lighter on specifics. Though I can’t help but think “Drill, Baby, Drill” has something in the way of job creation behind it, I worry like a feral momma cat how the attack on domestic petrol jives with his planned carbon reductions.

Climate refugees don’t tend to be those clinking their crystal on the rising seas. Something for Bob Schieffer at this final presidential debate? I would hope so.

Posted by gharman on 10/15/2008 6:18:25 PM
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