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Despite Senate Inaction, Clean Energy Economy Thriving

Sarah Laskow

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) released an energy and oil
spill bill this week that has no carbon cap, no renewable energy
standard, and no chance of changing the course of America's energy
future. And yet, despite Senate setbacks, the clean energy economy is

A new report, funded in part by the State Department, says that renewable energy use worldwide is at a "clear tipping point,"as Yes! Magazine's Brooke Jarvis writes.
That growth comes despite inaction in Washington. Around the world,
electric companies are drawing power from sources like wind and solar,
entrepreneurs are building new renewable energy generators, and
governments are pushing for renewable energy use.

Congressional inaction

Over the course of 2010, the Senate's ambitions for climate
legislation have dwindled to almost nothing. A session that began with
the Kerry-Boxer bill-a close-enough approximation of the House-passed
American Clean Energy and Security Act-ended with Reid's energy bill,
which drops all efforts to cap carbon.

Reid's bill would hold oil companies accountable for spills by
lifting a liability cap. It also includes incentives for home energy
efficiency. The bill leaves out provisions that could have made a
difference to  America's energy future: It does not require states to
tap renewables for a portion of their electricity generation, and it
does not limit carbon generation in any sector of the economy.

At Mother Jones, Kate
Sheppard recalls Rep. Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) tough fight to get the House
measure passed, and reports that the House Speaker is still willing to
push forward on this issue:

Pelosi has tried to remain positive. "This is an issue
the Senate can't walk away from," Pelosi told the crowd of liberal
activists at Netroots Nation last Saturday. Even if the Senate has, for
now, Pelosi is optimistic. "It cannot be ignored," she tells Mother Jones. "I have confidence in the issue."

Alternative alternatives

Not everyone is mourning the death of cap-and-trade legislation. At The Nation,
Charles Komanoff, an environmental economist, argues for an alternative
method of tamping down carbon use and promoting alternative fuels.

"Virtually everyone who truly desires emissions reductions agrees
that putting a (rising) price on carbon is essential," Komanoff writes.
"But there's another, better way to do that, one that also would deliver
an economic bonus to a majority of Americans."

The fee-and-dividend system Komanoff is promoting increases the price
of emitting carbon, but instead of leaving it up to companies to manage
costs through carbon permits-as in a cap-and-trade system-this program
sends checks to consumers, who make their own choices about energy use.

Komanoff focuses on a bill drafted by Rep. John Larson (D-CT) as a
good example of this type of system; Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen.
Maria Cantwell (D-WA) also have a bill floating around that relies on
fee-and-dividend. It seems unlikely, but perhaps interest in
fee-and-dividend will revive now that the Senate has dropped carbon
cap-and-trade programs.

International implications

With all the back and forth in Washington, it's easy to forget that
the decisions our Senators from South Carolina or Nevada make affect the
entire world. The Senate's failure is also holding back the entire
international negotiation process on curbing global carbon levels.

Inter Press Service's Eli Clifton reports:
"Already, the upcoming meeting of international negotiators in Cancun,
in November, is being described as an increasingly unlikely venue for
the signing of an international climate agreement."

Outside the political arena, however, the world's consumers are
signaling that they're ready to embrace renewable energy. Going back to Yes! Magazine, Jarvis digs into the report on global energy use:

In Europe and the U.S., renewable energy grew faster than
fossil fuel energy in 2009-for the second year in a row.  Sixty percent
of new electricity generation in Europe and more than half of new
energy in the U.S. came from renewable sources. China built more than 37
gigawatts of renewable power generation capacity, more than any other
country. "If this trend continues," the report notes, "then 2010 or 2011
could be the first year that new capacity added in low-carbon power
exceeds that in fossil-fuel stations."

Clean energy at home

Even in the politically backward United States, clean energy projects
are humming along. In Albuquerque, for instance, scientists are working
to create "solar cells that are much smaller, cheaper and more
efficient than the current technology," as Public News Service reports. (They're also bendable!)

"The new technology is also less picky about needing direct sunlight
without any shading," reporter Eric Mack writes. "That means it could
perform better in mobile applications, such as on the exterior of a car,
because orientation towards the sun would be less of a concern."

And in Iowa, a program to fund alternative energy projects has
started to move. "Program manager Bill Haman says it was a slow-go at
first," according to another piece from Public News Service's Tom Joseph.
"But things have picked up in recent years, and the applicants are
pursuing just about any alternate energy venture under the sun."

Indeed, environmentalists' last-ditch effort to get some half-useful
provision into the Reid energy bill centered on a renewable energy
standard that would, in theory, increase clean energy use. But as Andrew Restuccia of the Washington Independent reports,
the limited standard favored in the last days of negotiation may not
have pushed clean energy use to grow any faster. And stripping the
standard out of the bill may not have even helped Reid: Restuccia also
reports that Republicans won't vote for the bill anyway. Even some Democrats are turning away.

In other words, for now, clean energy will have to make its own way.

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