Measuring The Stimulus's Footprint

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THE VINE FEBRUARY 6, 2009

Measuring The Stimulus's Footprint

Given that the country just lost 598,000 jobs in January, there are definitely bigger worries about the stimulus bill careering through Congress than how much pollution it will actually curb. Still, for anyone curious about the latter question, Greenpeace recently commissioned an analysis of the White House's original stimulus proposal by ICF International and found that the clean-energy, efficiency, and transit provisions would cut carbon emissions by roughly 61 million tons annually—equivalent to taking 13 million cars off the road. Not shabby at all.

Now, caveats galore: As mentioned, those numbers reflect the White House's original proposal. It gives us a decent estimate, but the bill has been tweaked a fair bit since then. The ICF numbers don't factor in congressional add-ons like the Senate tax credit for new auto purchases. And the ICF estimates depend, to a great extent, on where the transportation funds authorized by the bill actually go—whether they're used to construct new highways, repair crumbling roads, or to bankroll mass transit. On that note, by the way, it looks like the amendment by Barbara Boxer and James Inhofe to add up to $50 billion in new highway spending was stoppered up in the Senate after a handful of Democrats who wanted stouter environmental protections staged a revolt.*

Meanwhile, the forecast's still cloudy on how much Ben Nelson, Susan Collins, and the other "centrist" senators who are trying to whittle down the overall size of the stimulus package, will actually rip out of the bill. Over at Grist, Kate Sheppard highlights some of the green items that may get the scalpel, but like everyone else we'll have to wait and see what sort of compromise surfaces. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is reportedly haggling with Collins and Nelson behind closed doors right now...

Correction: My apologies for misreporting this originally. There's been a lot of chatter about a $50 billion "highway amendment" that Barbara Boxer supposedly authored with James Inhofe, but, as I understand it from talking with Senate staff, this story's not quite right. Inhofe did file an amendment yesterday with spending for wastewater, drinking water, transit, and highway infrastructure, the merits of which are mixed. Boxer worked with him to try to improve it and add environmental protections like "fix-it first" provisions (so that any highway money would go to repairs before any new roads were built), while trying to garner bipartisan support for the measure, but only as a starting point for discussions over changes in infrastructure spending.

As best I can tell, Boxer still wants the amendment to be much greener than it actually is, and she was never in favor of $50 billion in new highway spending, as has been rumored. (This version makes more sense, seeing as how Boxer is the Senate point-person on climate legislation, and not someone you'd ever expect to see support endless highway paving...) That said, Inhofe's amendment could still resurface..

Update: No on Inhofe's amendment. Katie Fehrenbacher lists the energy provisions that were cut from the Senate bill during negotiations with Snowe, Collins, and Nelson:

* The new bill allocates $3.5 billion for energy-efficient federal buildings—the original bill had allocated $7 billion.

* The new bill allocates $300 million for a federal fleet of hybrid vehicles—the original bill had allocated $600 million.

* The new bill cut $1 billion for energy loan guarantees.

--Bradford Plumer

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