Thursday, September 11, 2008

'Green' program could bring new jobs to Tennessee

Tennessee could get nearly 45,000 new jobs over the next two years under a "Green Recovery" program proposed by a coalition of environmental groups that would use taxes collected from air polluters to fund projects to increase energy efficiency.

The state's share would be part of a $100 billion plan for the entire nation that would create up to two million jobs, primarily in construction and manufacturing, to retrofit
public buildings with "state of the art energy equipment," improve public transportation, set up a "smart electricity grid," and develop alternative sources of energy such as wind, solar and advanced biofuels.

The proposals, presented at a news conference at the state capitol on Tuesday, came from a study by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, commissioned by the Center for American Progress and promoted by the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council, among others.

Money to fund the program, which is being touted as a way to help the nation recover from the economic slowdown, would come primarily from a government "auction" of air-pollution credits that industries such as coal-fired electric power plants and oil refineries could purchase to allow them to continue pumping carbon dioxide, a component of the so-called greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere, said David G. Hawkins, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate Center.

Such an auction of pollution credits has not yet been authorized by Congress, nor have any plans for spending the proceeds of an auction, but the proposal is being pushed in Washington with the idea of implementing it in the near future, said Hawkins, who was an assistant administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Carter administration.

Industries can pollute

The idea is to allow the energy-producing industries to continue to pollute, at least to a degree, while using the special tax collections from them to mitigate that pollution by implementing projects that would significantly reduce the use of energy overall.

"Equipping public buildings with the energy-saving equipment would both lower pollution and operating costs," Hawkins said. "The savings on energy would pay back the investment in the buildings in five years."

The study predicted that 44,942 jobs would result from the program in Tennessee, with the potential to reduce the state's unemployment rate by 1.5 percentage points over the next two years, he said.

Getting the program through Congress will be the biggest challenge, Hawkins said. "The green-energy industry is not as organized as the dirty-energy industry," he said.

Also new is the concept of making industries pay for pollution credits. In the past, they had been given such credits for free in efforts to curb acid rain, and had been able to trade them among themselves, Hawkins said.

Those costs probably would be passed along to consumers in the form of higher energy prices, as well, but energy inefficiency "already is a kind of tax," said Jim Frierson, executive director of the Advanced Transportation Technology Institute at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.

A bill to create the carbon-credits auctions failed to advance in Congress earlier this year, and "We're still a long way from a consensus," said Frierson, who also attended Tuesday's Nashville presentation.

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