Protect the environment and spur the economy through clean energy

As with generations before us, our country is at a historical crossroads. How we cope with the many challenges facing our nation will have repercussions for decades to come and likely much longer. America is beginning to emerge from one of the greatest economic crises in our history, but millions are still out of work and waiting for the rising tide to reach them and their family. Foreign markets and rampant speculation still can cause a spike in U.S. energy prices despite new and growing sources of domestic resources. Climate change is real, and it is threatening our global ecosystem with extreme weather, as well as incremental — and possibly irreversible — damage to our air, water and lands that will reshape food supplies, infrastructure and habitats.

The good news is that the solutions to each one of these problems are intertwined with solutions to the others. The common answer: the development and deployment of a national, clean energy policy.

The future of our economy, our environment and our security all demand that we reinvent the way America generates and uses energy. The opportunities here cannot be overstated. Investing in new technologies creates new jobs. Promoting efficiency and diversifying our energy sources creates competition, which would stabilize and lower energy prices. And thinking beyond fossil fuels buried in unstable or unreliable countries strengthens our national security. Moving to alternative and renewable energy sources also will help reduce the impact of climate change by decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and will reduce the impacts of pollution on our natural environment, making our communities healthier, safer places to live. Investment in efficient, clean energy will enhance our national security, protect the environment, improve health, stimulate technological innovation and increase economic growth.

While domestic oil production has increased by double digits in recent years, and we are tapping into our vast natural gas reserves, we need an energy policy that we can sustain for the long term. It must help America build an efficient, low-carbon economy that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and create new, inherently domestic jobs for the future. Oil, gas and even coal may never disappear from the American energy equation, but consider that the International Energy Agency estimated that every dollar spent on clean energy projects in California created nearly four times as many jobs as an equal investment in oil and gas. Spreading this model throughout the nation is not just the right thing to do in order to sustain the health of our environment — and us — but it makes good economic sense.

As a member of the Senate Finance and Environment and Public Works committees, I have looked to find the nexus between economic policy and our environmental/energy policies. I support energy tax credits for investors who are developing clean energy alternatives like wind power. Maryland is taking the lead in installing 400-600 megawatts of offshore wind electricity generation. A 500 megawatt project would create 2,000 manufacturing and construction jobs for 5 years and hundreds of additional, ongoing supply, and operation and maintenance (O&M) jobs thereafter.

We also should be using our tax code to promote more efficient buildings that will reduce energy consumption and costs, as well as reduce the amount of pollution that makes its way into our water and air or seeps into the ground. Along with the U.S. Green Building Council and the Real Estate Roundtable, I have been exploring just what an extension and some small changes to the Section 179D commercial property deduction would do to encourage energy efficient construction and retrofits that reduce total annual energy and power costs by as much as 50 percent.

Installing the right interior lighting systems, heating cooling, ventilation and hot water systems can make a significant difference in a building’s energy consumption. The changes to 179D have been estimated to create 77,000 new jobs. With these types of incentives, taxpayers get a huge return by investing in projects that avoid energy use. Efficiency must join coal, petroleum, renewable and nuclear as one of our “sources” of power that is encouraged through the tax code.

We need to use every available energy tool to promote sustainable energy, including tax incentives and regulations, while increasing the willingness to move away from using unlimited fossil fuels and allowing emissions to pollute our air. What we need is a comprehensive, national energy policy that makes sense for our economy, our security and the environment. By making the right choices today — in government and the private sector — together we will create millions of jobs, help end our dependence on foreign oil and reverse the damage pollution has done to our air and water.

Cardin has served in the U.S. Senate since 2007. He currently chairs the Water and Wildlife subcommittee of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and also serves on the Finance, Foreign Relations, and Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees.