Pennsylvania has already taken important steps in the right direction with the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act, which has created a robust renewable energy industry; and the Alternative Energy Investment Act, which provides $650 million for renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects. But state actions are not enough. A national climate policy is urgently needed.
Strong national climate change legislation will achieve several major goals.
First, by imposing a cost on carbon emissions through a "cap-and-trade" system, climate legislation will provide a financial disincentive for the use of high-polluting energy fuels. A strong national climate-change policy will also provide economic incentives that will stimulate technological innovation in clean energy. This is the market signal many American companies need before investing additional billions in new energy solutions.
Second, national climate-change policy will stimulate the economy and create jobs. America has the opportunity to lead the world in developing the clean-energy jobs of tomorrow. The bill passed by the House, together with the economic stimulus program, will create 1.7 million clean-energy jobs across the United States, according to a study by the Political Economy Research Institute. Projections show that the House bill will deliver to Pennsylvania $2.2 billion in energy-efficiency investments that would make us smarter users of heating oil, electricity, and natural gas.
Third, strong national climate-change policy will build in protections for consumers to prevent sudden spikes in energy costs as we make the transition to a cleaner, low-carbon economy. The House bill ensures that local utilities such as PECO will be able to help customers avoid higher monthly energy bills through rebates, low-income assistance, energy-efficiency programs, and other measures.
Fourth, climate-change policy will increase our national security by reducing our country's dependence on foreign oil and increasing our reliance on homegrown sources of cleaner energy.
Opponents of cap-and-trade argue it will be too costly. But the costs - estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to be about $175 annually per household by 2020 - would be offset by savings through energy efficiency. Typically, energy-efficiency investments save consumers $3 for every $1 invested. The energy efficiency provisions in the House bill could actually cut household energy and transportation bills by $1,050 annually per household by 2020 and $4,400 by 2030, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
Americans, and Pennsylvanians, are among the most innovative, productive workers in the world, and we have the opportunity to lead the world in what will be a multitrillion-dollar market for clean-energy technologies. Rather than send billions overseas to buy foreign oil, we should be investing here at home, designing the new energy future that will protect our environment and sustain our prosperity for generations to come.
Jan Jarrett is president and CEO of PennFuture. Denis O'Brien is president and CEO of Philadelphia-based PECO.