Thursday, January 22, 2009

How the economic recovery plan falls short

Dear friends,

A few thoughts below on major shortcomings in the economic recovery plan, approved this week by the House Appropriations Committee.

--Frank O’Donnell
Clean Air Watch


But first, a quick review of relevant headlines:

New evidence that the Antarctic is warming

Reports that glaciers are melting so fast that some could vanish by mid-century

Official word that 2008 was one of the warmest years on record, despite the recent cold snap

And a report in the New England Journal of Medicine which confirms that reducing particle soot pollution will let people live not only healthier, but longer lives.

With these vividly in mind, here are a few major shortcomings in the House committee-passed economic recovery bill.

Although the plan does include money for “green” initiatives, it could – and should – do more. It’s a real opportunity to make headway against global warming and deadly air pollution, while boosting the economy. Let’s hope it doesn’t become an opportunity missed. This may not be an exhaustive list, but here are three things that would improve the plan:

More for diesel cleanup

Most obvious, perhaps, is the need to clean up diesel pollution. It’s a three-fer: creating jobs, reducing soot emissions that shorten our lives, and eliminating black carbon emissions that help cause global warming. The New England Journal of Medicine piece alone ought to be enough to prompt Congress to move as rapidly as possible to reduce the threat of diesel soot pollution. Especially because there are assembly lines, now quiet but ready to rev up, at various companies that make pollution control devices. The House bill would include $300 million for this effort. As you may recall, a broad alliance – with groups as diverse as the American Lung Association and the American Trucking Associations – is calling on Congress to boost that to $1.5 billion. This is a no-brainer.

Clarify energy efficiency standards for building and renovation projects

The proposed stimulus package contains huge amounts of funding for new building and renovation projects – much of which is meant to increase energy efficiency in public buildings. For example $16 billion is dedicated to public housing retrofits and $6.9 is designated for block grants to local governments for weatherization and energy efficiency projects. However the actual language of the stimulus bill completely lacks energy efficiency criteria, benchmarks, or targets.An estimated one billion square feet of building will be built or renovated using stimulus dollars. Without using more efficient building practices, this amount of space translates to about 158 trillion BTU’s of energy consumption annually. Assuming a 50/50 split between new building and renovation, half of that amount will be added to total US energy consumption and the other half will be fixed until the renovated buildings are renovated again. (These are estimates by Architecture 2030, a non-partisan group advocating increased energy efficiency in building simple language to the bill to give funding preference to more energy efficient projects would encourage states and contractors to use energy efficient building practices, saving money in energy costs in the long-term, and dramatically reducing our energy use and carbon emissions.

More for transit

As my friends at NRDC point out , most of the transportation money in the bill likely will go to highways – with the potential for more sprawl and more pollution. (Sprawl, of course, will make it that much more difficult to meet any goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.) More investment is needed in rail and public transit.

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