Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing. To our witnesses, thank you for coming to share your expertise with us.
With oil trading at more than $140 per barrel, countries and companies are investing in clean energy at unprecedented rates. According to a recent study from the United Nations Environment Program, new global investment in clean energy reached $148 billion in 2007.
That total will grow larger in the years ahead. And yet, even as it does, alternative and renewable energy resources will continue to account for just a small fraction of worldwide energy consumption. As a result, it is not only appropriate, but also necessary for the federal government to step up and provide financial certainty to those who are willing to invest in clean energy projects within the United States.
Along with seven co-sponsors, I introduced one of the bills before us today – Senate bill 2730 – just over four months ago. My proposal would create a Clean Energy Bank, modeled after the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, to accelerate the commercialization of clean energy technologies.
The Bank would have the authority to offer direct loans, loan guarantees and insurance products. It would be able to take positions in commercially viable clean energy projects. And the Title 17 loan guarantee program, which has broad support, would become much more robust under the management of this Bank.
The Bank would feature a bipartisan Board of Directors with significant autonomy to select the projects they believe are most worthy of federal support. It would be staffed with financial professionals to help ensure that informed decisions are made on all of its investments. Oversight would be provided by the Congress, in conjunction with auditing by both the Comptroller General and independent accountants.
I believe it is important to have this Bank be independent of any government agency – free from the political concerns that sometimes impede progress. Also, quite frankly, I have not been impressed with the Executive Branch’s record managing these types of programs, such as loan guarantees, so I think creating a government corporation presents the best chance for an efficient, effective Clean Energy Bank.
The Bank created by my legislation would not endorse one form of clean energy, or one type of project, over any other. Instead of playing favorites, it would simply level the playing field.
Senator Bingaman has already spoken about his legislation, so in closing, I would just like to add a bit of perspective for the record. With the end of this Congress fast approaching, I regret that this hearing is being held so late. We have very little time to move this legislation through the Senate, through the House, and onto the President’s desk to be signed into law.
What is particularly upsetting is that it didn’t have to be this way. I introduced my bill in March – several months before the Senate engaged in what predictably turned out to be a highly partisan and completely unproductive debate over a complicated cap-and-trade system to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Instead of wasting almost a month on that debate, we could have taken up my common sense, market-oriented bipartisan legislation. I believe that my bill would have garnered enough support to pass the Senate and allowed us to actually accomplish something to make the environment cleaner, rather than simply having a political debate forced upon us on a bill that clearly wasn’t ready for consideration. I regret that we didn’t hold this hearing much sooner.
With a total of 10 Senators supporting my bill or the Chairman’s bill, a Clean Energy Bank presents a rare opportunity for bipartisan success at a time when the desire to pursue the achievable over the politically expedient has been in short supply. This Bank would provide financial security to those who are willing to invest in clean energy technologies, thereby increasing their usage and lowering their costs. Ultimately, this would lead to significant progress in our efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and our dependence on foreign oil.
Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing. I hope that it will underscore the need to act quickly, before the end of this Congress, on legislation to create a Clean Energy Bank for the United States.