Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Without the support of a single Republican lawmaker, the House today approved the $819 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act by a vote of 244-188.

The package would allocate more than $100 billion in direct spending for various green projects, including money for clean energy and efficiency programs, a smart grid, weatherization of low- and moderate-income homes, retrofits on public buildings and public housing, clean water infrastructure, and environmental restoration.

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The measure contains $14.6 billion for public transportation, $3 billion more than originally planned thanks to an amendment that mass transit supporters were able to add during debate. There’s also $37.9 billion for energy efficiency and $27.8 billion for renewable energy. On top of those amounts, the Ways and Means Committee added $20 billion in renewable-energy and energy-efficiency tax credits and related financial incentives, and inserted language to make the investment tax credit passed last year refundable.

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The bill now moves to the Senate, which probably won’t vote on a package until next week. Appropriators have been hashing out how they’ll distribute funds, and it’s looking like green projects won’t fare as well in the Senate version even though senators’ package is $68 billion larger. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved $365.6 billion in spending, and the Senate Finance Committee passed $522 billion in tax measures, which include incentives for renewables. There’s only $8.4 billion for mass transit in the Senate package, which is even less than a previous draft of the bill called for.

Some environmental groups are perturbed by $50 billion in loan guarantees for the nuclear industry that are included in the Senate package. “The nuclear industry has given millions of dollars to politicians, an investment that appears to be paying off,” Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder said in a statement on Wednesday. “Senators are supposed to be fixing the economy but instead they’re offering the nuclear industry a $50 billion gift that will create virtually no near-term jobs. It’s unconscionable. Lobbyists are probably popping champagne corks as we speak.”

Ken Ward reports that coal supporters also inserted $4.6 billion for the industry into the Senate bill, nearly double the money in the House version. That includes $2 billion for the development of “near-zero emissions” power plants, $1 billion for the Department of Energy’s Clean Coal Power Initiative, and $1.6 billion for carbon capture at industrial plants.

Enviros are hoping that the Senate can do better as they move forward on the package.

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“The House has now set a high bar and as this bill moves to the Senate, it is vitally important that we see even more of these kinds of improvements,” said Melinda Pierce, the Sierra Club’s deputy director of national campaigns. “Focus must remain on investing in newer, cleaner, more efficient technology and not wasting money on costly, business-as-usual approaches like new coal plants or ‘highways to nowhere.'”

President Obama issued a statement following the House passage of the bill, calling for the legislation to be improved before it reaches his desk: “The plan now moves to the Senate, and I hope that we can continue to strengthen this plan before it gets to my desk. But what we can’t do is drag our feet or allow the same partisan differences to get in our way. We must move swiftly and boldly to put Americans back to work, and that is exactly what this plan begins to do.”