Senate Energy Committee’s Energy Package Misses Opportunity to Create Clean Jobs, Save Consumers Money

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Elliott Negin
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enegin@ucsusa.org

Senate Energy Committee’s Energy Package Misses Opportunity to Create Clean Jobs, Save Consumers Money

Science Group Calls on Full Senate to Fix ‘Pitiful’ Renewable Energy Provisions

WASHINGTON -  By a 15 to 8 vote, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
today passed an energy package including problematic provisions that
should be rewritten or removed before a full Senate vote, according to
the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Flawed provisions for
renewable energy sources, the electric grid, loan guarantees, and
nuclear fuel reprocessing would undermine progress toward a clean
energy economy, the group said. 

Marchant Wentworth, a clean energy advocate at UCS, was especially
critical of a provision that purports to promote renewable energy
sources. "Study after study tells us that a robust renewable
electricity standard requiring utilities to get a quarter of their
electricity from sources like the wind and sun would create jobs and
save ratepayers money," he said. "This bill's renewable standard is so
pitiful that it wouldn't require any new renewable energy development
beyond business as usual. Moreover, if any states adopted the loopholes
and exemptions in this bill, it could reduce the amount of renewable
energy development we expect under existing state policies."

Wentworth cited a UCS analysis that found the energy package's
renewable electricity standard would require much less wind, solar,
biomass and other renewable energy development than what studies by the
federal government and others conclude is achievable and affordable.
For example, the Department of Energy projects that current state
policies and federal incentives would increase renewable energy to
about 10.2 percent of total U.S. electricity generation by 2021. By
comparison, under the Senate standard, utilities would only have to
provide 7.4 percent to 10.7 percent of their electricity from renewable
energy by 2021, according to UCS estimates.

Even worse, the Senate standard could threaten the future of the
renewable energy industry, Wentworth said. The standard would establish
an "alternative compliance payment" option that would allow states to
opt out of the federal requirement altogether. In addition, utilities
would be able to use alternative compliance payment funds to subsidize
new nuclear reactors or coal plants with carbon capture and storage
technology instead of renewable energy technologies.

UCS also opposes the Senate version of the Clean Energy Deployment
Authority (CEDA), which would establish a fund to provide low cost
loans for new energy technologies. Unlike the version in the House's
"American Clean Energy and Security Act," the Senate version has
virtually no controls to protect taxpayers from defaulted loans, and
would not ensure that the funds underwrite a diverse set of
technologies.

"The entire fund could be invested in new nuclear reactors or coal
plants instead of more cost-effective, low-carbon alternatives,"
Wentworth said. "The Senate should drop this version unless it adds
taxpayer protections that are at least as strong as the House's when
the bill gets to the Senate floor."

UCS supports federal transmission legislation that would ensure
broad participation in planning and siting new power lines, prioritize
access for new renewable facilities, and allocate costs equitably. The
bill's transmission provision does not do that.

"Unfortunately, the Senate transmission proposal does nothing to
stop new carbon-emitting coal plants from coming on line, and it could
even increase production and pollution from the dirtiest existing coal
plants," Wentworth explained. "This provision could take us backward to
a dirtier past, rather than forward to a clean energy future."

Finally, the bill includes language that would require the secretary
of energy to accelerate development of nuclear waste reprocessing
technologies, an approach the Obama administration has abandoned.

"Promoting near-term reprocessing is the wrong thing to do," said
Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist in the UCS Global Security Program.
"Analyses by the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security
Agency found that reprocessing increases nuclear waste and the risks of
proliferation and terrorism, and that further research and development
is not likely to solve these problems."

With these four problematic provisions in the final energy package,
Wentworth says the committee has missed an enormous opportunity to
create a cleaner, more efficient energy system. "Despite Senator
Bingaman's best efforts, the chairman was forced to cripple this bill
to get it out of committee. In its current form, it would do too much
damage to deserve support. We'll work with Chairman Bingaman and other
senators on the floor to completely overhaul this bill so it will
generate tens of thousands of jobs, save consumers billions of dollars,
and dramatically cut the pollution that causes global warming." 

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The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.

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