WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leaders at companies that develop low-carbon energy told a Senate panel that climate legislation would create millions of new jobs, but lawmakers from fossil-fuel dependent states said the bill would hit employment in the traditional energy economy.
Climate change presents a global crisis, but “can also provide an economic opportunity of vast proportions,” Dan Reicher, director of climate change initiatives at Google told the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Besides creating new jobs in solar, wind and geothermal power, he said national regulation of greenhouse gases could help push investments to develop an efficient and robust power grid that would combine with information from the Internet.
That would create new jobs in new technologies across a range of companies, he said. The Web could send information from the “smart grid” to help consumers save money on power bills during peak demand periods and help them determine the cheapest time to charge electric cars that would cut emissions and oil imports.
Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer introduced new details on the climate bill last week on how permits would be distributed across industries. The bill aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020 under 2005 levels, a slightly tougher goal than outlined by the bill narrowly passed by the House of Representatives.
It is uncertain, however, whether Boxer and fellow bill writer Senator John Kerry have the 60 votes needed to pass the bill. Several of their fellow Democrats have reservations about the bill, despite new enticements for coal-state senators, including more to stimulate technology for the fossil fuel and provide other industry breaks.
An aide to West Virginia Democratic Senator John Rockefeller said the tougher emissions goal is unrealistic and harmful as there is not enough time to deploy the carbon capture and storage and energy efficiency technologies.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, who represents Montana, another coal state, also voiced opposition on Tuesday to the 20 percent target.
A third Democratic senator, Robert Byrd, also of West Virginia, has not yet staked out a position on the revised Senate bill. Byrd praised Boxer’s additions in the bill that put more focus on clean coal technology. But he warned, ”I will actively oppose any bill that would harm the workers, families, industries, or our resource-based economy in West Virginia.
Those opinions come on top of opposition from Republican senators from manufacturing states.
Still, Peter Bremm, a vice president for Infinia Corp, told the panel climate legislation could create solar industry manufacturing jobs to replace jobs lost in the auto industry. The solar power company’s supply chain consists of Midwestern auto supply companies retooled to work on renewable energy.
And Ralph Izzo, chief executive of power utility Public Service Enterprise Group Inc, which has nuclear, coal and natural gas-burning plants, told reporters after testifying that the bill would create jobs.
“A price on carbon forces you to do things differently ... and that creates opportunity,” he said.
But Bill Klesse, the chief executive of oil refiner Valero Energy Corp, told the panel the bill would cut jobs in his industry because it would force companies to buy billions of dollars worth of carbon credits. He said the costs would hurt refiners who have already lost jobs as the recession cuts fuel demand.
Boxer disputed the claim about permits, as the plants would be given about two percent of the overall carbon pollution allocations in the early years of a cap and trade plan outlined in the bill.
Google’s Reicher said revolutionizing the energy economy would take more than simply capping greenhouse gases. Measures to increase research and development funding for low carbon technologies and to set energy efficiency standards would also be needed to generate new jobs.
Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Marguerita Choy