Recovery Efforts Provide the Opportunity to Build a 21st Century Energy System

As Congress makes plans to recover from the COVID crisis, they must plan for the future by supporting legislation that saves and creates jobs, while also creating a cleaner and healthier world.

The following is one in a series of pieces explaining how investing in conservation and climate solutions can help rebuild our economy, grow jobs, and protect both communities and the birds we love.

Even as the country continues to suffer through the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant economic downturn, Congressional leaders are turning their attention from slowing the spread of the virus and emergency response to an economic recovery package. As we emerge from this tragedy, we can rebuild an economy that plans for the future by shaping legislation that can save and create jobs, while also creating a cleaner and healthier world by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution. While we must make every effort to address the immediate needs of the pandemic, we cannot ignore the long-term crisis that is at hand. Last year, Audubon released new science that showed that nearly two-thirds of North American birds—389 species—are at risk of extinction due to climate change. What’s bad for birds is bad for us. To better protect birds and preserve the climate they need to survive, Congress must adopt stimulus measures that help people, the economy, and the environment.

The push to reduce air pollution is especially important in helping communities protect themselves from future public health crises. Research has shown that communities in regions with higher levels of air pollution—like those that live close to power plants that burn fossil fuels—have been impacted more severely by COVID-19.  This has a particular impact on low-income communities and communities of color. Congress can make investments now that will increase the resiliency of our economy  and our electric grid, all while improving the lives of people, birds, and other wildlife.

Among Audubon’s priorities are strategic investments in clean energy, as job growth in these sectors has outpaced the fossil fuel sector over the last decade. And with the recent drop in oil futures into negative territory for the first time ever, the evidence is clear that renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage offer more security for investors, are easier to deploy, and don’t rely on uncertain fuel supplies.

To that end, here are some of the top requests Audubon made for inclusion in an economic recovery package:

  • Extension and enhancement of tax credits for renewable energy: Existing tax incentives support technologies like solar, onshore and offshore wind, geothermal, carbon capture, and electric vehicles, and should be expanded to include standalone energy storage as well. These provisions help finance clean energy projects and infrastructure, which in turn create jobs, make electricity more affordable, and increase the share of carbon-free electricity. However, construction or financing delays due to COVID-19 mean that some projects may not be able to take full advantage of the tax credits, putting those jobs at risk. It is imperative that the federal government recognize and protect the significant – and growing – number of jobs in the clean energy industry.
  • Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP): The WAP helps low-income households reduce energy costs by increasing the energy efficiency of their homes. Funded at $305 million in FY20, the WAP currently supports 8,500 jobs. In 2010, the WAP received $2 billion from the Recovery Act, which supported 28,000 jobs and the weatherization of over 340,000 homes, up from 8,500 and 98,000 in the previous year. Every dollar invested in weatherization generated $4.50 in energy savings and non-energy benefits. Additional funding could quickly ramp up existing programs to get more Americans back to work doing important home retrofits, and help low-income consumers save hundreds of dollars each year.
  • Clean Energy Bank: A new Clean Energy Bank would be a government-owned financial entity that offers investment opportunities for clean energy technologies, including loans, loan guarantees, and other forms of credit. This bank could help fill some of the short-term financing needs to keep renewable energy projects moving and keep Americans employed in the clean energy sector.
  • Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA-E): ARPA-E supports early development of energy technology that has the potential to revolutionize the energy system. The agency is widely hailed as a success, with many projects attracting follow-on private investment. Increased investment in ARPA-E will help entrepreneurs and innovators design transformative energy solutions.

These requests were in addition to others that focused on natural solutions to climate change, and which would also help get Americans back to work. While Congress’ attention to date has rightly been on addressing the health emergency, if and when the White House and Congress begin to negotiate the contours of an infrastructure-focused stimulus bill, we hope our elected representatives recognize that economic recovery and the environment can, and do, go hand-in-hand.