Chu in Golden, but real test of Obama energy legacy unfolding in House

Winds of change may be blowing through Golden today — underscoring just how critical Colorado has become on the national clean-energy front — but the real test of the Obama administration’s legacy is unfolding in Washington.

Even as Energy Secretary Steven Chu today marks Obama’s 100th day in office by touting millions in federal stimulus dollars for wind-energy research at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, members of two U.S. House committees are hashing out the details of a comprehensive energy bill.

Keith Hay, energy advocate at Environment Colorado, clearly has a stake in the outcome, but he likens the legislation to health care reform in the first 100 days of the Clinton administration, pointing out that because nothing was accomplished on that front then, we’re still dealing with the fallout today.

Hay says this is a defining moment for the Obama administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress, which may have just one shot at getting the energy bill right and making sure it’s stringent enough to effect real change.

Right now the American Clean Energy and Security Act, introduced March 31 by Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., is being kicked around both the Energy & Commerce Committee (chaired by Waxman) and the Energy & Environment Subcommittee (chaired by Markey), with Chu and other administration officials tentatively backing some form of the legislation.

Its current incarnation calls for a 25-percent renewable-energy standard by 2025 (a higher bar than current Colorado law) and a 20-percent greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2020 (cap and trade that penalizes polluters), but powerful forces have aligned to water down if not derail the legislation. Such a move, many conservationists feel, would neuter a cap-and-trade system and render it nearly as ineffective as the current European system.

Locally, naysayers are already lining up to blast the bill, but Colorado’s congressional delegation – most notably Denver Democrat Rep. Diana DeGette who serves on Energy & Commerce – will play a key role in shaping the legislation, which is headed to a full vote sometime this summer.

And state lawmakers are pushing ahead with their own clean-energy wish list even as events play out in Washington, rallying on the steps of the State Capitol today to garner support for several energy efficiency and renewable energy bills.

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