Washington Matters


Obama's Prized \"Green Tech\" on the Chopping Block

Richard Sammon

Fixing the economy by greening the earth? That concept will be put on hold.



Green technology has been promoted as an economic engine for the United States, something the country aims to champion to create hundreds of thousands of jobs, protect the environment and improve the American way of life.

We’ve all heard it. The tough part is accepting it is not altogether true.

There’s little denying that green industry and green consumer habits are growing, year by year. We see efforts, here and there, to become more environmentally aware, efficient and careful not to waste. Hybrid cars are gaining ground and electric cars will be on our streets in notable numbers before long. Power plants are cleaner. Enterprising water conservation devices are being used more in dry climate areas. We recycle more than we used to.

But green technology as an economic force large enough to be a driver of the U.S. economy?

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While noble, it’s also fanciful, especially with Washington scrutinizing every line of the federal budget as lawmakers try to find billions of dollars in cuts and trims. So…

Look for federal green energy funding to hit the chopping block at some point this year, as President Obama and lawmakers in both parties negotiate domestic spending cuts for months ahead. Don’t be surprised if green tech investment takes a huge hit.

In 2008, then-candidate Obama proposed $150 billion in federal funding for green technology, $15 billion a year for 10 years. In his most recent State of the Union Address, he referred to the challenge and promise of green technology as this generation’s “Sputnik moment” -- an industrial and economic wake-up call. But that pitch fell flat.

Under budget pressures, the president pared the federal commitment to $10 billion a year in 2010.

In the 2012 budget? Even less -- maybe only $2 billion to $3 billion -- will be spent after budget cutting negotiations for the Energy Department, Transportation Department, Pentagon, Agriculture Department, National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency and others.

So-called green tech accounts in the federal government won’t vanish, but they will be pared. The White House will say the federal investment in green tech, while smaller than the president had pledged, is still vital to spurring domestically developed technologies and encouraging private venture capital.

Count on some finely crafted speeches to this effect in the months ahead. There’s no walking away from green technology and its economic importance to the future of the country. This will remain true, and will be championed by both parties and by any presidential candidates worth listening to. But without the push that comes from federal dollars, you can set aside any prospect of fully embracing green technology as a near-term economic driver.

The green economy remains a noble goal. Large strides are required to reach its full potential, but only baby steps are being taken at the moment.


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