By Reid Wilson - 06/17/09 11:19 AM EDT
Vice President Biden on Wednesday reiterated the Obama administration's commitment to building the nation's renewable-energy capacity, an effort he says will create thousands of new jobs.
"We're not just looking for jobs, we're looking for decent jobs," Biden told business and environmental leaders gathered on Capitol Hill. "These are the kind of jobs that allow people to get to the middle class."
But the Obama administration's early relationship with environmental groups has not been smooth. Groups that spent millions to help Obama get elected have been disappointed with some decisions the Interior Department has made, including de-listing a threatened species of wolf in the Northern Rockies and allowing some expansion in offshore drilling.
The same day Biden made his remarks, a key environmental group announced it would oppose energy legislation that passed a Senate committee, calling it watered down beyond acceptable levels.
The energy bill "needs to be significantly strengthened as it moves to the Senate floor, where we believe there is majority support for considerably stronger clean-energy policies," said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope in a statement announcing the group's opposition to the bill.
The vice president highlighted the administration's new spending on high-speed rail lines, which will amount to $8 billion allocated in the economic stimulus plan. Biden also pointed to wind farms as a source for new jobs, especially those established off the East Coast.
Biden, who once fought with his home state to install wind farms off the coast, said attitudes have changed as governors up and down the coast look for job-creating initiatives.
"I got every governor on the East Coast calling me and saying, 'Joe, windmills, windmills, windmill farms,'" Biden said. The stimulus package alone, he said, would allow the U.S. to double its renewable-energy capacity in three years.
Introducing Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) cast the push for green jobs as a revolution aimed at changing the fundamental nature of the economy.
"Today, we're firing the first shots of a clean-energy revolution," Reid said. "We already have the tools at our fingertips to create green jobs. We already have the cutting-edge technology and Americans' ingenuity."
Reid reiterated his commitment to passing global warming legislation this year, while Biden promised business leaders they would have a partner in the White House as they make their push.
A spokeswoman in Reid's office said the majority leader plans to bring the energy bill up later this year, though it will likely come up after the August recess.
The summit came the same day the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the upper chamber's version of energy legislation by a 15-8 margin. But despite widespread buy-in to the summit from the environmental community, some pro-environmental groups are not thrilled with the legislation.
The Sierra Club said the bill's Renewable Energy Standard falls short. The group also criticized provisions allowing the government to purchase liquid coal and tar sands oil, and allowing more offshore drilling.
"While it makes positive strides in setting new energy-efficiency standards for our buildings and appliances, it falls far short of what President Obama has called for in order to repower America with renewable energy, create millions of new clean energy jobs, and fight global warming," Pope said.