From the Arkansas Statehouse...

Environmental poobah speaks, few listen.

In Energy on 10 February 2009 at 9:43 pm

Here’s an indication of how seriously Arkansas lawmakers take energy reform: This afternoon Jerome Ringo, president of the Apollo Alliance, a clean-energy advocacy group, came to the Capitol. Ringo regularly exchanges ideas with national environmental policymakers; tomorrow he has an audience with Barack Obama to discuss alternative fuels and energy efficiency. Today, however, he spoke in front of a largely indifferent Joint Energy Committee that was missing over half its 25 members.

Those absent skipped Ringo’s presentation on how the federal economic stimulus is expected to modernize the country’s energy infrastructure. The stimulus will bring spending on retrofitted buildings, research and development of alternative fuels, commuter rail and green jobs training, he said. He believes the U.S. can create 5 million green jobs within 10 years. He even added an interesting piece of insider news: the government is considering storing nuclear waste in abandoned salt domes.

But more important than all this information, absentees squandered an opportunity to pick an expert’s brain on how to bring Arkansas energy into the 21st century.

Ringo was surprisingly upbeat about the state’s progress. He said Arkansas has done a better job on alternative energy than some states whose law mandates the use of renewable energy. (Arkansas has no such requirement.) He was particularly impressed by ADEQ’s new LEED-certified headquarters. He also said Arkansas might find an economic opportunity in producing parts for Texas wind farms.

Legislators questioned Ringo about timber and lignite as fuel sources, retrofitting homes, and how Arkansas might secure a chunk of the federal stimulus. They also discussed potential legislation to help poor homeowners improve energy efficiency in their houses.

By and large, however, today was a missed opportunity to explore how the state might advance progressive energy policy. It’s enough to wonder whether the sparsely attended Energy Committee, which has been meeting at a rate of once every two weeks, has any real purpose.

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