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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Wisconsin must seize the green opportunity

From an editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

One of the objections to seriously addressing global warming is the cost. Some critics argue that curbing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions will bankrupt companies, create an unreliable electricity network, drive families into the poorhouse and generally ruin the economy.

There is no doubt that there will be a cost and that some sacrifice will be required. And it's true that many Americans today don't handle sacrifice very well. But the evidence produced by a United Nations panel and other scientists leaves little doubt about the reality and the seriousness of the threat, a threat that both presidential candidates appear to have taken to heart, unlike the current occupant of the White House.

But there is also an opportunity here to create a new economy that provides jobs at the same time that it reduces emissions and reliance on fossil fuels, a significant portion of which come from a volatile part of the planet. And if the country acts now to create that economy, it would be ahead of the curve and could take the international lead in providing a brighter future for the planet.

The opportunity lies in creating more green jobs - many of which people already know how to do - to use energy more efficiently and build the technologies that, from biofuels to wind turbines, could curb climate change.

That economy is in the process of being created, and among the builders are key companies in southeastern Wisconsin, such as Johnson Controls in Milwaukee, which has been doing excellent business in energy efficiency. Green jobs were the subject of recent conferences in Milwaukee and at Racine's Wingspread conference center. Nationally, the Blue Green Alliance - a joint venture of the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club - is campaigning for green jobs and energy independence.

We hesitate to use the New Age concept of harmonic convergence, but something does seem to be happening across the country at a number of levels.

Even more of the same is needed.

Among the immediate priorities:

• Congress needs to pass this year the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008. The bill would extend federal tax incentives for energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies that have expired or will expire at the end of the year.

In a recent meeting with the Editorial Board, representatives of the Blue Green Alliance said that 100,000 jobs could be lost at the end of the year if the tax incentives and credits aren't extended. The bill would extend for another eight years investment tax credits for installing solar energy and would extend for one year the production tax credit for producing wind power. It also would extend for three years credits for geothermal, wave energy and other renewables.

• Federal renewable energy standards should be stepped up. In Wisconsin, the Governor's Task Force on Global Warming has recommended a series of measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 22% by 2022 and 75% by 2050. Those are reasonable goals, but the closer the nation can come to Al Gore's 10-year goal of producing all electricity from sources that don't produce greenhouse gases, the better off it will be.

• The federal government needs to set a clear cost for carbon emissions, either by taxing such emissions directly or establishing a cap-and-trade system that would cap emissions and reduce them over time by allowing parties to trade in emission credits. Such a system was proposed by the governor's task force. Whether such a system is better than a straight tax on emissions deserves a thorough debate, but, either way, affected industries need stability on the regulatory front.

• Governments at all levels need to do a better job of promoting and encouraging businesses that produce green jobs.

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