Ending Oil Tax Breaks Could Pay For New Jobs—and Some May Be Green

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

President Obama unveiled a new job creation plan in a major speech to Congress last week and follow-up speeches this week, in which he called for an end to tax breaks for oil and gas companies to bring in an additional $32 billion over 10 years to pay for increased government spending.

Earlier this year, Obama called for repealing those same tax breaks to help pay for clean energy.

In his new speeches on jobs, Obama has not dropped the words “energy” or “green”—but some commentators said, reading between the lines, the president is still calling for more green jobs.

As green stimulus programs have approached their end, in recent months there has been controversy over how many green jobs—and of what kinds—were created.

An article featured in the New York Times said there were not as many jobs created as some had hoped, and that the spending helped outsource numerous jobs to places like China. But sources quoted in the article shot back, saying the article, among other things, neglected to mention many of the green jobs companies created in the United States.

A recent study estimated green stimulus spending created 367,000 jobs directly, and also created jobs indirectly that brought the total to one million jobs.

Meanwhile, the oil and gas industries said they can create 1.4 million jobs, if many areas are opened to drilling—but to create that many jobs would require drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, off the East and West coasts and Florida’s Gulf coast, and on most federal lands besides national parks.

Solar Probe

One company touted for its green jobs—solar panel manufacturer Solyndra—was probed by Congress this week, since it had received $535 million in federal loan guarantees before declaring bankruptcy this month, triggering an FBI raid.

While some have accused Republicans of grandstanding and using the company’s failure as a way to argue against green stimulus spending, some Democrats who supported the company said they also want answers—such as Henry Waxman, who released a July letter from the company indicating it was in good financial shape.

There are many myths about the situation, however, wrote Brad Plumer of the Washington Post. While there do seem to be irregularities about the way the company got its loan guarantee, Plumer argued its failure does not shoot down the idea of green loan guarantees or cleantech subsidies.

Going Flat

Overall, the U.S. failed to add any additional jobs in August, retail sales were flat, and fears grew of an approaching recession.

The fragile economic situation is having widespread effects on energy, with many forecasters lowering their expectations for oil demand the rest of this year and next year. Nonetheless, Americans may spend a record amount on gasoline this year: $491 billion.

Also, the growth of U.S. ethanol consumption appears to be slowing down, after registering several-year growth spurt, in part because of a drop in gasoline use and because most gasoline is now at the legal limit with 10 percent ethanol blended in.

The economic slowdown is likely taking a bite out of some energy efficiency efforts as well, the Energy Information Administration pointed out. Refrigerator replacements, for example, have dropped over the past several years—meaning people are sticking with older, less efficient fridges.

Two Kinds of Green

Two-thirds of the world’s 500 largest companies now include climate change in their business strategies, according to a survey by the Carbon Disclosure Project—and companies that work to cut their greenhouse emissions also outperformed their competitors on the stock market. Also, more companies reported their efforts to cut emissions have resulted in actual reductions, with the fraction soaring from about one-fifth in 2010 to nearly half in 2011.

Sails, Flowers and Honeycombs

Most pylons for power lines are reminiscent of the 19th-century Eiffel Tower, but a U.K. competition for “pylons of the future” aims to update this piece of critical infrastructure. Energy and climate change minister Chris Huhne announced six finalists in the competition, including a pylon design resembling a cylindrical honeycomb, a curved design similar to the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai, and another with a single stem branching out to several arms like a flower’s stamens.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.