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news feb09 1

Obama’s Green
Light for Renewables

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It is widely believed that the new president favours expansion of US renewable technology on the basis of its potential to create green collar jobs and he has apparently pledged to invest US$150 billion over 10 years in renewable energy to help create five million new jobs. The investment plan also aims to ‘catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future.’ Part of this scheme will see a $1 billion annual federal grant that will be allocated to states to identify and support local manufacturers to produce new clean technologies. ‘This investment will help provide the up-front capital needed by small and medium-sized firms’, Obama says.

Perhaps more significant in terms of growth of the sector is a proposal to establish a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to deliver 10% of US electricity from renewables by 2012 and 25% by 2025. The plans also call for an extension to the federal wind Production Tax Credit (PTC) for five years.

If these plans seem ambitious for the White House — which up until now has steadfastly resisted attempts to base its economy on a more environmentally sound footing — the real challenge will come in the execution of plans for an economy-wide carbon cap-and-trade programme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.

Additional measures designed to wean America off imported oil and curb its burgeoning emissions are proposals to develop next generation biofuels and infrastructure, including cellulosic ethanol, biobutenol, requiring at least 60 billion US gallons (230 billion litres) of advanced biofuels by 2030. The President will back investment from federal resources, including tax incentives and government contracts, into developing the most promising technologies and building infrastructure.

However, while both parties made much of their environmental credentials in the run up to the November vote, President Obama has made it clear that his priority on assuming office will be the parlous state of the global economy. Nonetheless, it was the state of the economy and the subsequent passage of the $700 billion bailout bill that gave the renewables sector the biggest boost it has had in many a long year with extensions to both the PTC and the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), achieved with obvious bi-partisan support.

Even matching the UK’s ambitious 80% target by 2050 would see the US overtake Europe, and potentially let America take a chair at the world’s environmental top table, whereas previously the US Administration has been widely vilified for its stance on climate change. John Sauven, Greenpeace executive director, commenting on the result said: ‘It’s a great relief that the Bush years are now all but over. We lost precious time in the fight against climate change as a scientifically and morally illiterate administration blocked action at every turn. Welcome back America.’ Certainly, Obama and running mate Joe Biden have already said that they intend to re-engage with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).


This may prove a challenge for the new President, although Carl Pope, Sierra Club executive director, is backing his environmental credentials so far, saying: ‘Barack Obama, in particular, has made it clear that investing in cleaner energy will be ‘priority number one’ in his plans for economic recovery.’

To further emphasize the importance of renewable energy, the United Nations Environment Programme and the UN Global Compact have organised the Business for Environment Global Summit. This summit is the world's leading international conference for dialogue and business-driven action for the environment. Now in its third year, B4E 2009 will address the most urgent environmental challenges facing the world today.

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