The stimulus bill does not fundamentally change the structure of the market, which favors cheap fossil fuels by failing to put a price on carbon. Obama plugged a cap-and-trade system, which would reverse that equation, during his State of the Union address and again in his budget plan. With Democrats divided by region, the question of whether to auction off greenhouse-gas permits might prove one of the most bracing debates facing Congress.
More likely to pass this year is legislation requiring that a specific share of the country’s electricity come from renewables. “If we are going to make the changes we need, conservation cannot be an act of personal virtue and renewable fuels cannot be luxury alternatives,” said Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), who sponsored one such bill calling for 25 percent by 2025, in a recent floor speech. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates a national mandate like Udall’s would create at least 185,000 jobs.
As the debates unfold, Newton mayor Chaz Allen will be following them closely. With the trio of new businesses, he says, “we’re getting our confidence back.” The transformation, he believes, is hardly finished. “If the federal vision comes to fruition, I think there will be more jobs in Newton than when Maytag was at full song.” Allen imagines not just more windmill manufacturers but also their suppliers, along with solar companies and more biodiesel producers.
“It could be a whole renewable-energy center,” he says. “We can put American people back to work.”