Muckraker: Grist on Politics

There’s a growing push in Washington for a green economic-stimulus package, and enviros have reason to hope President-elect Barack Obama will lead the charge.

“Finding the new driver of our economy is going to be critical. There’s no better driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy,” Obama told Time‘s Joe Klein in an interview two weeks ago. “That’s going to be my No. 1 priority when I get into office, assuming obviously that we have done enough to just stabilize the immediate economic situation.”

Obama adviser Dan Kammen said this week that the Obama team may conduct a nationwide “listening tour” on energy and environmental issues in the next couple of months, in an effort to build support for its legislative plans. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Actually, Kammen says that he mentioned “listening tours” and “topical summits” as ideas that previous new administrations have considered or conducted on key issues. His comment was mischaracterized in an article by E&E News.]

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), at a press conference on Wednesday, talked up the need for a stimulus package that includes green elements, ideally before Obama even takes office. “Central to the job-creation issue is the strong piece for rebuilding the infrastructure of America, again, in a way that reduces our dependence on foreign oil and that creates good green jobs in America. That is the first order of business that we will have, if it appears to have an opportunity, then we will have a lame-duck session to take it up.”

At a post-election press conference on Wednesday, leaders of major environmental groups also stressed the importance of an economic-stimulus package that includes green measures like home-weatherization funding, efficiency incentives, and aid for the auto industry make more efficient vehicles. That could be low-hanging fruit for creating new jobs and curbing energy use and emissions, they said.

“It’s about connecting the dots between energy, the environment, and the economy, and President Obama made that clear,” said Sierra Club Political Director Cathy Duvall. “It will help our economy recover, and it will also help our environment recover.”

“If there’s going to be a new economic stimulus package, clean energy should be cornerstone,” said Anna Aurilio of Environment America. “We think solving the economic crisis is going to be predicated on how well we launch the clean-energy economy.”

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“The biggest solution is a new energy future,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters. “We’re pleased to be able to work with a new president who gets it on these issues.”

At an Environmental Law Institute event on Wednesday, policy wonks and a senior adviser to Republican Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.) voiced similar sentiments.

The event’s moderator, Brookings Institution fellow David Sandalow (who was also an energy and environmental adviser to Obama’s campaign), noted that Obama will take leadership at “a period of historic opportunity and historic constraints.” The panelists agreed that the key to passing new energy and environmental legislation will be using it to spur economic growth — through building efficiency, mass transit, and infrastructure development.

“He has to sell it as an economic opportunity, and has to show sustained presidential leadership,” said Mark Helmke, who advises Lugar on these issues. “What he does on this issue from the bully pulpit will make light years of difference … It depends on how much President Obama uses his vaunted position to put heat on this topic.”

Green economic stimulus seems likely to be the earliest environmental progress we could see in the next year — if Obama and the new Congress can push it through.

“[Obama] understands the gravity of the problems we face, and we expect him to act,” said Sierra Club’s Duvall. “We expect to work with him on investing in clean energy and new jobs.”