Increasing support despite Dole

Tax cut proposals by former Senator Bob Dole would eliminate all federal energy programmes (outside of defence programmes), including those for renewables and efficiency as well as that for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). So contends the Sustainable Energy Coalition which is questioning the wisdom of Dole's proposal. Dole faces incumbent President Bill Clinton in America's November 5 presidential election.

The coalition warns that Dole's plan to partly pay for his proposed 15% tax cut would effectively eliminate non-defence energy programmes and would even cut into some defence programmes. The presidential candidate's proposal would reduce $32 billion from the Department of Energy (DOE) budget over six years, a cut ten times higher than the House of Representatives' proposal for the 1997 fiscal year to axe $2.8 billion, also over six years.

NREL would almost certainly have to close, as would laboratories that engage in basic science such as the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in northern California. The coalition maintains that DOE renewables and energy efficiency programmes support 45,000 jobs nationally.

The coalition points out, however, that nearly one-quarter of the members of the US House of Representatives are now members of the House Renewable Energy Caucus. Two new congressional representatives recently joined the caucus -- which draws members from both the Democrats and Republicans and was only founded six months ago -- to bring its number to 100. The caucus, in part a result of increased lobbying by renewables groups on Capitol Hill, is galvanising support for renewables, says the coalition.

In one budget vote for the new 1997 fiscal year, which started on October 1, the renewables budget was upped by $42 million by a 279 to 135 vote. This positive vote contrasts with a similar amendment last year, which was passed by only a six-vote margin. The caucus has sponsored seminars, a trade show and other events on renewables, including wind.

The coalition also refers to the fiscal year 1997 budget as a victory. It gauges that ultimately $30 million was shifted from nuclear to renewables and efficiency when the 1997 budget was finalised. Congress approved funding of $270 million and $569.8 million for renewables and efficiency respectively, a combined increase of 1.4% over the FY '96 level. Wind's budget, however, at $29 million was cut by almost 10% (Windpower Monthly, October 1996).