Published on
the Burlington Free Press (Vermont)

States Should Lead Green Recovery Investment

Lewis Milford

Today, our nation is facing two crises: One is our failing economy, and the other is global warming.

The good news is that President-elect Obama appears ready to explore how to use this challenge and opportunity to help rebuild the U.S. economy and energy infrastructure through a green recovery package, with 21st-century green technologies.

The real challenge is where and how the money from the various stimulus packages should be invested. Any new funding must be put to use quickly and effectively in order to have an immediate impact on the economy. Governors from both parties met last month in Philadelphia, and the members of the National Governors Association advised President-elect Obama to invest the stimulus money in state infrastructure improvement programs immediately -- a "bottom-up" approach.

We have a very simple suggestion to make this happen. The federal government should deploy a portion of the green stimulus money directly through the many state clean-energy programs that already exist -- without any new federal bureaucracy.

Many states already have launched innovative finance, policy and market initiatives that are supporting new clean-energy infrastructure. These state programs are established, staffed and capable of administering new funding immediately to drive new clean-tech industries, markets and jobs. It will be cheaper, smarter and faster to invest in existing state programs than to create new federal programs. A federally funded, but state-administered, initiative can get money out the door, revitalizing the economy now.

Historically, states have built and financed new infrastructure and innovative technologies, from the Erie Canal to stem cell research and development. The states can create green jobs by constructing the 21st-century clean-energy infrastructure: wind farms; retrofitting buildings with energy-efficient technologies; modernizing the electrical grid; expanding and greening the public transportation system; building energy-efficient automobiles; and manufacturing solar panels and photovoltaic cells. These projects will create real, meaningful jobs for engineers, metalworkers, electricians, welders, factory workers, software engineers, steel workers, machinists, scientists, agricultural laborers, contractors and carpenters. We can turn our fading blue-collar jobs into export-proof green-collar jobs.

As we begin to seriously invest in clean energy programs, it's important to remember that in the past the federal government has used a largely top-down, one-size-fits-all, research-focused approach to advance clean-energy technology. It hasn't worked. Impressively, in the last 10 years the states have spent billons of their own dollars to become the real laboratories for clean- and renewable-energy economic development. This bottom-up approach has proven to be the smartest way to build local, green economies.

Individual states have already seized the initiative to develop their own groundbreaking clean-energy programs -- to use clean energy as economic stimulus. As New Jersey Gov. Corzine recently said, "One of the cornerstones of my economic stimulus plan is an investment in changing our energy future." The business community should see the economic crisis, he said, as "an opportunity to drive a clean-energy future fueled by innovation, economic opportunity, local job growth and environmental fortification." To that end, New Jersey is building the first offshore wind farm in the United States, and they're not waiting for the federal government to take the lead.

Vermont is a national leader in biomass renewable energy innovation. Alaska is spending $100 million to help small rural communities foster their own renewable energy projects. In California, Gov. Schwarzenegger has created a partnership with homebuilders to sell 1 million homes with solar panels built into their roofs. Connecticut has launched a leasing program to help low-income families afford renewable-energy systems with no capital costs down.

Consequently, each state can take advantage of its unique strengths and resources. Vermont can use cow manure to create bio-energy; Arizona can invest in solar technology; and Kansas can harness wind power.

Let's encourage and expand this bottom-up, state innovation. Congress should direct this clean-energy infrastructure funding directly through state clean-energy programs. It will impact the economy quickly and create the types of jobs that will strengthen and green our economy at the same time.

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Lewis Milford of Middlesex is the president of Clean Energy Group and Clean Energy States Alliance.

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