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Posted on on May 28th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (


Cleaner Energy.

Published: May 27, 2012 for the paper of March 28th – the 2012 MEMORIAL DAY.

Last week, President Obama visited a plant in Iowa that builds wind turbine blades to promote his campaign for green jobs and renewable energy — and to hammer the Republicans for not helping the cause. It was the right venue. Iowa is a leader in wind power, which provides about 20 percent of the state’s total electricity, as well as the thousands of jobs that go with it.

Renewable energy is faring well across the country, thanks partly to aggressive state governments and timely — but now imperiled — subsidies. Clean energy sources would do even better if the Republicans would end their hostility to any form of energy other than fossil fuels.

Here’s some of the good news:

THE STATES       Twenty-nine states have now adopted renewable energy standards requiring utilities to produce a percentage of their power from non-fossil-fuel sources. Iowa’s target is 30 percent by 2020; the state is two-thirds of the way there now because of wind power.

In 2011, there were 20 states producing more than 5 percent of their power from non-hydroelectric renewable sources, up from only five states in 2001. Bipartisan efforts by state leaders have helped. As governor, George W. Bush signed the renewable standard in Texas, which now gets more than 5 percent of its juice from wind.

PUBLIC LANDS    In 2005, Congress directed the Interior Department to approve enough wind, solar and other renewable energy projects on federal lands to heat, cool and light five million homes. For years, not much happened, with the Bush administration fixated on oil and gas exploration. But in the last two years, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has approved 29 large-scale solar, wind and geothermal projects.  Most are in the planning or construction stage.  Mr. Salazar has flipped the switch on only one, a small solar project south of Las Vegas.

Even more important, Interior has held extensive talks with the states, big utilities and the environmental community and has drawn up an admirable blueprint for development in carefully chosen solar “zones” in six Western states, where projects can proceed with minimal impact on wildlife.

THE MILITARY    The Defense Department, historically an incubator of energy technologies, has made efforts to “green” the military, allocating nearly $1.4 billion this fiscal year for energy efficiency, solar and wind power on military bases and development of advanced biofuels. The hope is to reduce the military’s fuel bills while curbing dependence on oil from unstable countries.

There’s also bad news, mostly emanating from Congress. When a range of important subsidies expire this year and next, federal support for renewables will plummet from $44 billion in 2009 to $11 billion in 2014.

Some of the Republican opposition to federal support reflects budgetary concerns, some an unwillingness to do anything that could challenge the dominance of fossil fuels. Some if it is inexplicable. When Ray Mabus, the Navy secretary, tried to explain the Pentagon’s embrace of alternative fuels to the House Armed Services Committee, Randy Forbes, a Virginia Republican, snapped, “You’re not the secretary of energy; you’re the secretary of the Navy.” And just last week the Senate Armed Services Committee blocked the Navy from building a biofuels plant, unless expressly authorized by Congress.

If the Republicans care about reducing dependency on foreign oil, this is not the way to do it.

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