Robbing Renewables to Pay Teachers?

| Thu Aug. 5, 2010 11:35 AM EDT

The Senate is expected to give final approval today to a $26 billion package that will save states from having to lay off thousands of teachers and fund Medicaid, and the House is expected to come back in session next week to do the same. But is the bill robbing Peter to pay Paul? The package will be paid for in part by a $1.5 billion cut to renewable energy loan guarantees.

Part of the funds will be drawn from a $6 billion Department of Energy fund, the same fund the Senate borrowed from last year to give $2 billion to the Cash for Clunkers program. As you'd expect, the renewable energy sector is livid. The Solar Energy Industries Association sent a letter to senators urging them to vote against the cut. "It would be a terrible mistake to gut the DOE loan guarantee program right when it is on the verge of making dozens of clean energy projects a reality," wrote SEIA vice president of government affairs, Daniel Adamson.

Plundering the fund, SEIA said, would be "devastating to the solar industry's efforts to develop clean electric generation and would result in the loss of thousands of jobs" and would "jeopardize $15 to $20 billion of private investment in pollution-free energy generation and domestic manufacturing."

Majority Leader Harry Reid's office has insisted they are still committed to funding renewables. Reid spokesman Jim Manley writes to Politico's Morning Energy:

Sen. Reid has worked aggressively to secure tax breaks and funding for clean energy projects in Nevada and around the country, and he will continue to do so. He is working with the Administration to ensure funding that has been set aside for renewable projects is put to use as soon as possible to put Nevadans back to work and diversify the state's economy. While this is a priority for Sen. Reid, so is protecting the jobs of teachers and first responders, and that is what this bill is all about. The decision to enact these rescissions was a way to make sure we could protect hundreds of thousands of jobs, and do it in a way that does not add to the deficit.

I understand that there's an immediate need to fund these crucial programs, but the renewable energy loan program (which is quite small, I might add) shouldn't be the go-to source. There are, oh, billions more in subsidies and loopholes for the fossil fuel industry that Congress could use to fund this program. Or perhaps the Senate could dip into the $18.5 billion Congress has already committed to loans for nuclear power, a much more mature industry, rather than stealing from renewables.