The massive government economic stimulus plan now in Congress would reduce pollution that causes global warming and lower energy bills for many Americans, according to an analysis published on Thursday by environmental watchdog Greenpeace.
The primary purpose of the stimulus package--said to be in the range of $825 billion to $900 billion in government spending and tax cuts--is to jump-start the ailing U.S. economy.
Greenpeace commissioned climate change consulting firm ICF International to analyze the environmental benefits from the energy and transportation portions of the bill. Overall, the report concludes that, from an environmental perspective, "it's money well spent," Greenpeace executives said.
If implemented, the measures would cut 61 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from electricity, the equivalent of eliminating power use of 7.9 million homes or taking 13 million cars off the road.
"It's a real sign that we're starting to move the world beyond the era of fossil fuels and we're setting an example for others," Greenpeace research director Kert Davies said during a conference call with reporters.
ICT said analysts were able to quantify only about half of the environmental benefits from the stimulus plan, which means that emissions reductions could be more than projected.
Investments in energy efficiency offer the most economic ways to reduce carbon emissions and save money annually.
In the package is a provision to give $6.9 billion in state and local aid to retrofit municipal buildings to be more energy efficient, which would save $3 billion annually. Similarly, a proposed $2.5 billion to weatherize people's homes would save $1.25 billion a year in utility bills and cut 87.6 million metric tons of carbon of the lifetime of the program.
The report did not focus on the economic impact of the stimulus package, which is the source of debate among policy makers who question whether the spending will have an immediate impact on job creation in the U.S.
But Davies said that it's clear that the legislation was drafted with an eye toward short-term benefits and longer-term economic development. "This is smart money being put forward to build a clean-energy economy," he said.
Studies by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the U.K.'s Stern Review have calculated that the effects of climate change hurt the economy, such as the economic fall-out from floods and droughts.
The economic stimulus package has passed the House and is now being debated in the Senate, where it is in danger of being watered down, said Steven Biel, Greenpeace's global warming campaign director.
He recommended that the tens of billions of dollars set aside for energy efficiency and renewable energy provisions in the package not be cut. Also, the renewable energy policies, which are based on tax credits, should be altered so that more clean-energy developers can take advantage of it.
Biel said that tens in billions in loan guarantees for nuclear energy and coal-to-liquids would not have a short-term stimulative effect. Also, the ICT analysis found that spending on mass transit infrastructure would have a far lower carbon impact than new construction or even improving existing roads and bridges.