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CLINTON SHOWS HIS TRUE GREEN COLOURS

Democratic President Bill Clinton has issued a budget that puts political distance between his pro-environment stance and his likely Republican opposition -- and wind and other renewables fared better than did dirty energy technologies. On March 19, the White House formally presented a detailed election-year budget proposal that would boost wind funding by almost 60% from that authorised by Congress last year.

In its record $1.64 trillion budget, the White House is specifically proposing $49.65 million for wind research and development, a small budget cut for nuclear and a significant cut for fossil fuel. The wind funding level is similar to that requested by Clinton a year ago, which was then cut by the Republican-dominated Congress to $31.55 million, the final fiscal year 1996 appropriation.

This year however, renewables advocates predict that Congress will not reduce the president's proposed funding as much as last year. "It is clear they recognise they're on the losing side of public opinion," says Randy Swisher of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), which requested a wind budget of $53.5 million for fiscal year 1997. "They will not be as hostile to renewables."

With Clinton facing re-election a bold budget statement had been expected. Public opinion has also steadily turned away from the anti-green and conservative "Contract with America" touted by House Speaker Newt Gingrich after the conservative Republicans sweep in November 1994. Two months ago US Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary was prophesying an 'in your face' energy budget that would clearly delineate the president's priorities. And although the wind proposal is a tiny proportion of the entire $1.6 trillion proposal, Vice President Al Gore specifically pointed to renewables as an important part of the budget during a briefing at the White House when the budget details were released last month.

Money for research into all renewable energy, including solar and wind, goes up $80 million to $369 million under Clinton's proposed package. Energy conservation funds would jump 37% to $760 million, restoring cuts in energy efficiency programmes made by Congress in this year's budget. Outlays for work at government nuclear weapons production facilities would go down slightly to $5.9 billion from almost $6 billion this year.

In other pro-green indications, the Environmental Protection Agency, under fire from Republicans in Congress, would get $7 billion next fiscal year, or almost $1 billion more than Congress passed this year, but which Clinton vetoed as too little. Temporary funding this year is $5.7 billion. And the federal "superfund" toxic waste programme, targeted by Congress for a $500 million cut, is in line for $1.4 billion.

AWEA has been pushing for its proposed $53.5 million budget by stressing that the US wind market is at a standstill despite a drop in the domestic price of wind power of more than 80% over the past 15 years. The market stagnation is largely due to uncertainty over utility restructuring, record low natural gas prices and severe reductions in prices paid for wind energy in California, where most US wind farms are installed.

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