Clean Energy Can Fuel Economic Revival, Green Groups Tell Obama

WASHINGTON, DC, November 28, 2008 (ENS) - President-elect Barack Obama can revive the U.S. economy - and aggressively combat climate change - by investing in clean energy technologies and strengthening environmental protections, the leaders of major U.S. environmental groups advise.

The recommendation is a central part of a lengthy wish list of policies sent to Obama's transition team Tuesday by a broad coalition of 29 of the nation's leading environmental and conservation organizations, who also urged the president-elect to swiftly reverse "eight years of environmental neglect" under the Bush administration.

"Our economy is suffering and so is our environment," Larry Schweiger, head of the National Wildlife Federation told reporters on a conference call. "The solutions to both go hand in hand."

The groups contend that difficult economic times provide opportunities, rather than obstacles, to tackling the daunting issues of climate change, clean energy and environmental protection.

"Generating green collar jobs, making our offices and homes more efficient, rebuilding our water infrastructure, reducing our dependence on oil, reviving our ailing landscapes - these are solutions that can lead directly to economic prosperity, greater social equity and even enhanced national security," the coalition said in the 391-page report.

The solution to the nation's economic problems "is a new green economy," said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters. "Delay is not just bad for the planet, it is bad for the economy."

That message echoes some of Obama's own rhetoric on energy and climate change - last week he pledged support for a federal carbon cap-and-trade system, that would mandate cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and a further 80 percent by 2050.

Obama also outlined support for a $15 billion annual investment to support renewable energy and build a clean energy future, predicting the efforts would produce some five million new green jobs.

Those goals are in line with what environmentalists have long supported - a key reason the environmental groups are confident their agenda will now have a powerful advocate in the White House.

Obama has made it clear that his priorities "jive nicely" with the major concerns of the environmental community, said Maggie Alt, executive director of Environment America.

The environmental groups' planning document contains broad goals as well as specific recommendations for the White House and federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department, as well as the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy

"It covers a wide range of issues that merit prompt presidential attention, but it underscores the urgent need to build a green energy economy to tackle global warming," the groups wrote. "Most importantly, the document reflects a fundamental consensus that serious action is needed right now in order to usher in a healthier, cleaner, more prosperous and more sustainable era for America."

Along with the climate and energy recommendations, the groups call for a slew of policies to safeguard the Arctic, as well as steps to increase protection for wetlands, national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands.

The report recommends increased funding for conservation programs, stricter oversight of energy production from public lands and tighter air pollution standards.

The groups want Obama to reinstate a federal moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling along with a Clinton administration rule protecting roadless areas in national forests. They also want Obama to restore protections for endangered species weakened by the Bush administration.

"There is lot of work to do to reverse the damage of the last eight years," Alt said.

In addition, the Obama administration should act quickly to reverse any last minute Bush rules that weaken environmental protections, Karpinski added.

"On day one they should place a moratorium on finalizing midnight regulations and reviewing those that have not yet taken effect," he said.

The environmentalists contend the widely anticipated economic stimulus package provides a critical opportunity for Obama to quickly signal his intention to follow through on his promises to solve the "entwined economic, climate and environmental crises."

Obama should lead the effort with bold measures to promote energy efficiency and spark increased development and use of renewable energy through modernization of the nation's electrical grid, the groups said.

"There's economic opportunity if we do this right," said Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The current electricity transmission grid is "a patchwork of antiquated technology" that loses 20-25 percent of electricity generated by coal-fired power plants, he explained.

Upgrading the grid can create jobs and unleash the potential of renewable energy, said Schweiger.

"This can get the system moving in terms of new energy … and allows us to invest in solar in the Southwest, wind in the Midwest and elsewhere and move that energy to places where it is needed," he told reporters. "Currently we do not have an infrastructure for that."

The following groups collaborated to produce the recommendations - American Rivers, Center For International Environmental Law, Clean Water Action, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Environment America, Environmental Defense Fund, Friends Of The Earth, Greenpeace, Izaak Walton League, League Of Conservation Voters, National Audubon Society, National Parks Conservation Association, National Tribal Environmental Council, National Wildlife Federation, Native American Rights Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana, Ocean Conservancy, Pew Environment Group, Physicians For Social Responsibility, Population Connection, Population Action International, Rails-To-Trails Conservancy, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, The Trust For Public Land, Union Of Concerned Scientists, and World Wildlife Fund. -- By J.R. Pegg, ENS Washington Bureau Chief

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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