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Earth Day: Environmental movement 40 years later, Obama administration message, saving the planet

Steven Chu
Secretary of Energy
Thursday, April 22, 2010; 10:30 AM

Energy Secretary Steven Chu was online Thursday, April 22, at 10:30 a.m. ET to discuss the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day: where the environmental movement stands now, the Obama administration's message of local activism, the upcoming Senate climate and energy bill, cap and trade, clean energy, Vice President Biden's announcement of funding for the 'Retrofit Ramp-Up' Recovery Act and more.

Full Coverage: Earth Day at 40

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Steven Chu: Forty years ago this week, America celebrated the first Earth Day. Because of the leadership of that generation, we have made remarkable progress in cleaning up the air we breathe and the water we drink and in protecting our natural resources.

Today, we are driven by new challenges. America is deeply dependent on foreign oil. Our climate is changing as a result of our carbon emissions, and in order to mitigate the considerable risks of climate change, the world must transition to a sustainable energy future. This will require nothing short of a new industrial revolution. America's future prosperity may well depend on whether we lead or follow in the new industrial revolution.

Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, this Administration has made a historic investment in clean energy and the jobs of the future. Just yesterday, we announced awards for innovative new efforts to bring home energy efficiency "tune-ups" to the doorsteps of the American people. You can find the details here -- http://www.energy.gov/news/8870.htm

We're off to a strong start, but solving the energy and climate challenge is going to take all of us doing our part, and I look forward to your questions today.

Steve

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washingtonpost.com: Vice President Biden Kicks Off Five Days of Earth Day Activities with Announcement of Major New Energy Efficiency Effort (U.S. Department of Energy)

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Alexandria, Va.: Yesterday at a briefing, Honda reaffirmed the importance of fuel cell vehicles in our alternative vehicle portfolio. The battery company EnerDel has a subsidiary (EnerFuel) working on a fuel cell/battery hybrid, saying that to increase the range and reduce the cost/weight, you need both. Why are you putting all your eggs in batteries (billions) and turning a blind eye to the importance of fuel cells ($100 million, a fraction of batteries, nuclear and even coal) as part of the transportation solution? They are already reducing emissions all over the world in stationary, backup and materials handling applications, why not cars?

Steven Chu: The Department of Energy is not only funding batteries, but we are also funding fuel cell research. Fuel cells typically are designed to operate on hydrogen. One of the issues is the infrastructure for the distribution system and we are supporting experimental programs where fuel cell driven vehicles like delivery vans or taxis can go back to a central location where they can be fueled without the need for developing a nationwide distribution system. The primary source of hydrogen today is the reforming of natural gas, which is also a carbon dioxide source.

Ultimately, it's not clear what is the best path to decreasing carbon emissions. With electrification there are many more opportunities to reduce carbon emissions at the point of electrification.

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Fairfax, Va.: President Obama says that the mission of saving the environment, saving energy, saving the Earth starts locally, that everyone in their communities should do what they can individually. Is this a strong enough message? What is the federal government doing?

Steven Chu: Many things can start with a personal commitment by individuals. Working hard to decrease the energy consumption in your home, turning off the light, driving a more fuel efficient vehicle. These things will save you money and help the planet.

The federal government is making a commitment to reduce its own energy use by 28 percent, and through the Recovery Act is making an $80 billion investment in clean energy.

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Washington, D.C.: DOE's Weatherization spending under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has seen delays due to bottlenecks at the state and local level. What have you done to ensure that the Retrofit Ramp-Up initiative you announced yesterday will not face similar delays?

Steven Chu: The weatherization program took awhile to get started, but is now going strong and is accelerating. In February alone, 18,000 homes were weatherized, and we have a strong system in place to make sure that the pace will continue to increase.

The Retrofit Ramp-Up program announced yesterday works entirely differently, and will involve partnerships between state and local governments, private businesses, community organizations and homeowners to help create a self sustaining energy efficiency industry.

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Vienna, Va. : Dear Secretary Chu,

The Goal for Energy Independence in the United States was established by the creation of the Department of Energy in 1977. The prospects of reaching the goal are very remote unless an all-out effort is initiated, and an effort equivalent to the Manhattan Project is launched today.

Steven Chu: We do need a new industrial revolution, but unlike the Manhattan Project, which was a military program, we need to recruit every person in the United States to help reduce energy use and create a new, clean energy economy.

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New York, N.Y.: Secretary Chu,

I had the opportunity to hear you speak in-person last fall at a New Jersey Clean Energy Conference in Atlantic City and appreciated listening to your insights and thoughts on global warming and the future of renewable energy.

As you know, the current administration has provided significant funding to renewable energy projects through the "stimulus" as a mechanism to create jobs and proliferate renewable energy adoption in the U.S. Wonderful, in theory.

The reality, however, is that many federal government-funded projects are circumventing the "Buy America" clause as they are purchasing renewable energy through Power Purchase Agreements (PPA's), created from technologies produced overseas (mainly, China). So, the net result is that our stimulus is creating jobs in China.

How is the administration proposing closing this loophole and redirecting funds to support a U.S. manufacturing base, as the legislation intended?

Thanks.

Steven Chu: I agree that we need to increase America's manufacturing base for clean energy, and the Administration is taking aggressive steps to do just that. The Recovery Act, for example, provided 2.3 billion in tax credits for clean energy manufacturing.

We also need to realize that the best way to attract clean energy manufacturing is to build up the demand for their products. For example, Denmark set in long term policies that supported the wind industry, and as a result, more than 20 percent of their energy comes from wind. And one of the world's largest manufacturer of wind turbines is headquartered in Denmark. That's no accident.

Because of the investments we are making in the wind industry, we are now adding more wind power in the U.S. than any other power source. And as a result, the domestic content of U.S. wind turbines has gone from 25 to more than 50 percent and is expected to climb even higher.

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Hagerstown, Md.: Has the federal government considered giving the states incentive to stop putting asphalt-based roofs on our public schools?

Steven Chu: Great question. You can save a lot of money on your air conditioning bill in the summer by having a white roof or "cool roof." The sunlight is reflected back into space.

We are urging states and local governments to look into this option. When it is time to re-roof a building, the major incentive is that a cool roof will save money on air conditioning bills. And, of course, it is very good for the environment.

For your own home, there are many "Energy Star" cool roofing products available -- energystar.gov

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washingtonpost.com: Energy Star

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Annandale, Va.: Do you think the U.S. auto industry is doing enough to stem carbon gases? Is the administration pleased with new types of more energy-efficient vehicles they're producing?

Steven Chu: While we can't predict the price of oil and gasoline will be next month or next year, it's a safe bet that it will be higher in 10 years because of the increased demand -- especially in developing countries. We have already begun to rely on more expensive forms of oil which will cost more to produce and refine.

The Department of Energy has partnered with both large and small auto companies and suppliers to help them retool and produce more fuel efficient vehicles. President Obama has accelerated fuel economy standards that will continue to drive innovation. We are also funding potentially game-changing battery research that will allow us to move toward electric vehicles. Advanced biofuels are another very promising option.

While we are pleased with the progress, it is only a beginning. This is where the consumer can be very important.

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Steven Chu: Thanks for all the great questions. I have to log off now, but let's continue the conversation on my facebook page -- facebook.com/StevenChu

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washingtonpost.com: Facebook/StevenChu

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