Clean Energy Victory Bonds: A Win for America
April 23, 2009
In the town-hall-style presidential debate last fall, a 78-year-old Chicago woman rose to ask a question.
She recalled the shared service and sacrifice of Americans working together to win World War II, and asked Senators Obama and McCain what they would have us do today to “restore the American dream and to get out of the economic morass that we’re now in.”
Obama responded by calling for both community volunteerism and voluntary energy efficiency, asking Americans to conserve energy in their homes, businesses, and transportation choices. Both are essential to meeting the needs of our communities and nation, but neither fully establishes the truly long-term solution: a green economy that replaces fossil fuels with energy efficiency and renewables.
To declare energy independence, restore community and environmental health, establish new green-energy jobs that can’t be outsourced, and avert the worst consequences of climate change, America must update its energy infrastructure starting today.
Such a massive undertaking requires money and commitment. In the past, when presidents have needed to mobilize public commitment and engage citizens in underwriting the costs of collective challenges, they have often turned to a simple financial solution: bonds.
During World War I, Woodrow Wilson purchased Liberty Bonds and encouraged Americans to do likewise. During World War II, Franklin Roosevelt promoted “Victory Bonds,” which raised $185 billion ($2 trillion in today’s dollars) from the more than 85 million Americans who stepped up to fund the war .
To fund our energy challenge and put struggling Americans to work building the new-energy infrastructure, Barack Obama can take a page from his forebears and introduce Clean Energy Victory Bonds.
These bonds would allow millions of Americans play their part by investing small amounts -- $25, $50, $100 -- in a unified patriotic movement designed to restore our economy, our environment, and our energy independence all at the same time.
Americans would buy long-term (10 years, or more) bonds from the federal government to invest in the large-scale deployment of clean energy. These bonds would pay an annual interest rate, with the payback based in part on the energy and energy savings that bonds would generate.
What could we do with an additional $2 trillion in the budget raised by Clean Energy Victory Bonds? Three priorities stand out:
- Renewable Energy Development – We need to enlarge and enhance the Department of Energy’s (DOE) loan guarantee program to refocus on truly clean sources of energy, like solar, wind, and geothermal development. In addition, a DOE-run federal block-grant program could provide matching funds to states for implementing solar installation programs. To extend the value of both of these, our country needs a new “smart” electricity grid that will enable the deployment of renewable technologies, and allow consumers who produce their own power to sell back to utilities. All of the above will create green jobs nationwide that can’t be outsourced to other countries.
- Energy Efficiency – First, we need to fully fund existing programs, such as the Conservation Block Grant Program (grants for state and local governments to make their buildings more efficient) and the Weatherization Assistance Program (free efficiency upgrades for low-income communities). According to DOE, weatherization programs alone create about 75 jobs for every $1 million invested. Second, we can create a Clean Energy Corps (modeled on AmeriCorps, the federal youth service corps) to train and employ disadvantaged populations (both urban and rural) to update buildings for energy efficiency.
- Green Transportation – With fluctuating gas prices, commuters are breaking mass-transit ridership records across the country, showing that it’s time to invest in mass transportation and high-speed rail projects. Furthermore, funding for auto companies must be tied to the mass-production of plug-in vehicles, electric vehicles, and other highly fuel-efficient cars. Producing cars that Americans will still want to buy even as gasoline prices soar (as they did last summer, and will again), is key to rescuing the jobs at our auto companies.
What can we do to restore the American dream, as asked by the Chicago woman at the debate?
We can invest in our own clean-energy future, and when we do, good jobs, a cleaner environment, energy independence, victory over climate change and a new sense of national unity and purpose will follow.