MELISSA BLOCK, host:
President Obama and other proponents of the stimulus package have been selling the spending as one way to move America toward a greener future. They point to tax incentives and investments meant to spur energy savings and green jobs. But the provisions in the stimulus package are not all environmentally friendly. In fact, critics say many parts of the package will encourage dependence on foreign oil, and increase the kind of pollution that causes global warming.
NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports that's because the basic notion of a stimulus package is biased toward the status quo.
ELIZABETH SHOGREN: Some of the money from the stimulus package might be spent right here. We're in suburban Maryland, about 15 miles from Washington, D.C., on the shoulder of I-95. Local officials want to use some of the stimulus money to connect this eight-lane highway with a new toll road that's under construction, called the Intercounty Connector.
Mr. MICHAEL REPLOGLE (Transportation Director, Environmental Defense Fund): So the road will cross over here. And then, we'll have a massive, cloverleaf interchange.
SHOGREN: Michael Replogle is Environmental Defense Fund's transportation director.
Mr. REPLOGLE: This will then be a 12-lane highway. And in some places where there are on-ramps and off-ramps, it'll be 14 lanes wide.
SHOGREN: Replogle raises the window in his light-green Prius to muffle the roar of the traffic. He says expanding I-95 will mean more cars, more development and more greenhouse gas pollution. He says Congress should not spend about $29 billion of the stimulus money on highways and bridges, especially not to build new ones.
Mr. REPLOGLE: It's not the kind of investment we need to be making in the 21st century, particularly when we have good leadership at the state and the federal level that is calling on us to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, to get serious about the severe climate-change challenge that's ahead of us.
Ms. CAROL BROWNER, (Director, Office of Energy and Climate Change, White House): In developing the stimulus package, shovel-ready was absolutely important.
SHOGREN: Carol Browner is director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change. She says the primary goal of the stimulus package is to spend money fast to get the economy going. These road projects are ready to go.
Ms. BROWNER: The infrastructure, as we all know, across our country is in serious need of attention. We can create jobs immediately through these projects.
SHOGREN: Browner says lots of green projects also meet the shovel-ready requirement. So the stimulus spends billions of dollars to weatherize homes, make schools and federal buildings more energy efficient, and stimulate development of wind and solar energy.
Ms. BROWNER: The good news is that there were tremendous opportunities in terms of clean energy and green jobs.
Mr. CHARLES EBINGER (Director, The Energy Security Initiative, Brookings Institution): I think there are a lot of missed opportunities.
SHOGREN: Charles Ebinger heads the energy security initiative for the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank. He says Congress and the president are thinking too small. To spend such a massive amount of money, they should take their time and use it in big, consequential ways to create the foundations of a greener economy.
Mr. EBINGER: It may take a lot of political heat. It may take more pain in the interim. We may see much higher levels of unemployment. But if the long run is to make us more efficient and really transition us to the future, this is the way we need to go.
SHOGREN: Instead, the money could turn the country's three aging electric grids into one, integrated, modern one, ready to access new wind farms in the center of the country and solar plants in the Southwest. It could fund big, green public transportation projects, and entice businesses to mass-market cars that go 60 miles per gallon.
Mr. EBINGER: So, I think it's very tragic. And I understand the politics behind getting something out fast. But when we're thinking about something so critical to our future, something President Obama talked about, transformative technology for the future, this is not transformative technology.
SHOGREN: Ian Bowles says that's too much to ask of a stimulus package. He's the energy and environment secretary of Massachusetts. And he's hoping to use stimulus money to build wind turbines to power wastewater treatment plants and pay for other clean-energy projects.
Secretary IAN BOWLES (Massachusetts Energy and Environment): What it really, importantly, does is, it allow us to access an existing pipeline of projects that we don't have the funding to cover. And that'll create jobs, and it'll advance both our energy and environmental objectives up here.
SHOGREN: Bowles hopes Congress attached enough green strings to prevent states from spending stimulus money on projects that would make it harder to fight climate change and reduce dependence on foreign oil.
Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News. Washington.