The Senate is proposing to give the United States a Band-Aid, when a transplant is required.
I was disappointed when the House's version of the stimulus package was released with only $95 billion allocated to green initiatives out of $550 billion in expenditures (and another $275 billion in tax cuts), but the Senate version is far worse. By my reading, only $67.2 billion of the $885 billion Senate stimulus plan is now allocated for green initiatives:
Instead of a down payment on our future, the Senate bill sprinkles most of the stimulus money throughout the existing economy, with $13.9 billion in Pell Higher Education grants, $13 billion "to help close the achievement gap and enable disadvantaged students to reach their potential" and $5.8 billion to "fight preventable diseases and conditions." Some money is clearly not green at all -- like $27 billion in highway funding.
There are also major bucks for residential real estate proposed. According to CNN, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said he would propose an expansion of a temporary $7,500 first-time home buyer credit so that it applies to all purchases of primary residences, and some Republican senators have called for an increase in the credit to $15,000. Senate Republicans are likely to introduce a provision that would encourage lenders to offer a 30-year fixed rate mortgage at 4 percent.
The problem with the stimulus package and the proposed amendments is not the amount of the allocations, or even the worthiness of some of the programs, like higher education and healthcare. Rather, it is the fundamental perspective on the American economy that it represents.
In essence, the government is saying that the American economy will stay fundamentally the same -- dependent on highway transit and residential real estate, instead of developing into an economy of smart communities and renewable resources. Instead of looking ahead to a new economic future, which is both green in terms of environmentalism and green in terms of limitless potential investment, the Senate has decided to look backwards to try and regain the halcyon days of the real estate bubble. Not only are those days are gone, they were built on an environmentally and fiscally unsustainable foundation to begin with. What is required is a transplant of the heart of the American economy to a fiscally responsible, green foundation. The Senate's proposed bill and amendments amounts to nothing more that a Band-Aid.
Shari Shapiro, J.D., LEED AP, is an associate with Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP in Philadelphia. She heads the company's green building initiative and writes about green building and the law on her blog at http://www.greenbuildinglawblog.com.