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Politics

U.S. Energy Policy: Is Uncle Sam Green Enough?

Despite earmarking $100 billion for renewable energy, our government has drawn criticism for not being tough enough on environmental issues.

Government policy is the 2,000-pound gorilla in the green-energy room. According to Clean Edge, a research firm, China and South Korea are leading the way in promoting and financing renewable energy and conservation. South Korea has enacted a “Green New Deal” that could result in government expenditures of $84 billion on clean-tech investments by 2013. China, which could spend $440 billion to $660 billion over the next ten years, last year led the world in wind-energy installations for the first time.

When it comes to greenhouse gases, China is somewhat inconsistent, says Ron Pernick, co-founder of Clean Edge. On the one hand, it’s fast approaching the time at which it will become the largest emitter of them; on the other hand, the Chinese “are absolutely serious” about becoming the world leader in renewable energy.

The U.S., which is currently the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China, has drawn fire for not being aggressive enough in funding renewable-energy projects or creating a comprehensive renewable-energy plan. We are by no means standing still; Congress earmarked about $100 billion of stimulus money for renewable energy, and the Department of Energy is guaranteeing loans and investing billions in renewable-energy companies, such as Tesla Motors (symbol TSLA), a maker of electric cars that went public earlier this year. Uncle Sam is essentially picking up 30% of the tab for solar, wind and geothermal projects.

For some, though, that’s not nearly enough. A recent Reuters article quoted Deutsche Bank official Kevin Parker as saying that because of the deadlock in the U.S. Senate over tackling global warming, “we’re going to take our money elsewhere.” Parker, who heads Deutsche Bank’s asset-management division, said it will invest the $6 billion to $7 billion it is devoting to climate-change projects in Chinese and Western European concerns.

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The logjam may break after the fall elections. “You have a bunch of people in Washington who want to keep their jobs and who don’t want to take a stand right now” on something perceived as expensive and favored by liberals, says Jeff Siegel, of Green Chip Stocks, an investment-research service. “When there’s not an election so close, there will be some progress.”

The Holy Grail of those who want a stronger U.S. renewable-energy policy is a national renewable energy standard. This would mandate that a certain percentage of energy used nationally be derived from renewable sources. Many states already have such policies, and several, including California, Oregon and Massachusetts, are leaders in green-energy legislation.