Photo via RRStar
Many environmentalists were ecstatic when they saw the amount of funding for green projects in the stimulus bill. But while the sums in the bill remain the same--$4.5 billion for high tech power systems like smart grids, for example--where exactly the money is going to go, and which specific initiatives will be given the green light is still up in the air. With a very finite amount of money available, a fierce lobbying battle is underway that could determine the fate of many proposed green projects.A Green Lobbying Frenzy
Take Boulder, CO, for example. Even Obama has said that Boulder is on pace to become the world's first smart grid city. But Xcel, the company that plans to upgrade the city's network, faces a slew of other companies intent on securing funding for their projects—big guns like IBM and Cisco are lobbying for a smart grid system in Austin. PG&E; wants to install high tech utility meters across CA, which would cost $1.7 billion. Xcel's project would cost $100 million. No doubt Con Edison will want money for its smart meters. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. With a total of only $4.5 billion allotted for high-technology power systems, those projects are going to add up fast. So whomever will decide where all that money goes?
A Lobbyist's Delight
And all this lands us in a situation all too familiar to our political system—one that Obama repeatedly said he'd try to avoid—with the lobbyists holding an inordinate amount of power. We've entered into yet another scenario where the most influential and most powerful lobby will determine where government funding goes: (from Bloomberg)
One of those lobbyists, Howard Marlowe, has been e-mailing clients at 2 a.m. and fielding calls from clients who want part of the money. Marlowe, president of Marlowe & Co., a Washington lobbying firm, is still examining the 1,073-page bill for new spending and grant opportunities.
That should give you an idea of the climate among lobbyists in Washington around now. If it doesn't, maybe this will:
"This is a lobbyist's delight," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a government watchdog group in Washington. "Normally they lobby to get something into the bill and then they're done," Ellis said in an interview. "Now they get paid to make their project get funded."
And lobbyists don't always have the best judgment when it comes to environmental issues.
Out of Our Hands?
So is that it? Is all we can do now sit back, cross our fingers, and hope that the lobbies with the best green projects win out? Well, if it's any consolation, it seems Energy Secretary Stephen Chu and climate coordinator Carol Browne are up to the task of sorting out through them—they're expanding their staff to try to ensure the money will be spent wisely. Change we can believe in or not, lobbying is still a political reality in Washington—and while I'm loathe to consider that the fate of countless green projects are left in their hands, I've got to retain hope that the final calls the administration makes will be informed, educated ones.