Could a Green Bank Hitch a Ride on the Jobs Bill?

Fans of a National Infrastructure Bank (NIB) that would help leverage private-sector funding for transportation projects are still hoping for Hill action after the House declined to add the idea to its $154 billion jobs bill. But the NIB isn't the only new financing strategy on the table, as Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) reminded President Obama yesterday.

6a00d8341c67ce53ef0115714afc0a970c_500wi.jpgA solar bus stop in San Francisco. (Photo: JetsonGreen)
In a letter calling for a Green Bank to be part of the White House's coming job-creation push, Van Hollen wrote:
[A]ccelerating America’s transformation to a clean energy economy is imperative for reasons of energy independence, national security, international competitiveness and climate change.

However, for an underemployed America, these imperatives also give rise to a new opportunity and national mission of unsurpassed importance: the construction of a clean domestic energy industry that gives America a competitive advantage in our export markets while providing low-priced, abundant clean energy for our heating, cooling, lighting, transportation and industrial needs at home.

The House climate bill creates a Clean Energy Deployment Administration that fulfills much of the same mission as Van Hollen's Green Bank, but the Maryland lawmaker envisions speeding up its creation by emphasizing the employment potential of clean energy investment, rather than its environmental benefits.

What does this mean for infrastructure? To get an idea of the potential projects that could be funded by Van Hollen's proposed bank, take a look at the winners of the U.S. DOT's $100 million in stimulus grants for green transportation.

Los Angeles' transit authority is working on a system to capture the energy generated by braking trains and store it to reduce power use during peak travel hours. Atlanta transit officials are developing bus-stop canopies with photovoltaic cells that can trap solar power and transfer it to the city's grid. San Antonio got money to replace some of its diesel buses with electric models.

There are a lot more green transportation investment ideas where those came from, and many of them stand to give a huge boost to the companies that developed the technology in question. Capitalizing a Green Bank through the jobs bill could help spur new transit projects that otherwise would have had to wait for climate legislation or a new long-term transportation bill to become law.

But there's a sticking point that, as in the NIB's case, could make the difference between a Green Bank constrained by parochial politics and one that's free to fund whatever projects make the best business sense.

The bank envisioned by Van Hollen (and Center for American Progress president/Obama transition adviser John Podesta) would be independent from the Energy Department, acting as a separate chartered corporation. The Senate's pending energy bill takes a different view, making the Green Bank a part of the government.

If the House and Senate can't reach a compromise on the preferred format for the bank, it could lose momentum as the jobs debate proceeds this winter.

(ed. note. Streetsblog Capitol Hill will be dark for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, but back in full effect on Tuesday.)