Backers of a sweeping energy and environmental bill are hoping to inject new momentum into a stalled effort to cap carbon emissions, with a major push timed around extensive hearings this week on Capitol Hill.
On Tuesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the first legislative hearing of the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act. Over the next few days, 54 witnesses on nine separate panels will testify before the committee, and proponents of the bill are hoping that skeptics will change their minds.
Otherwise known as the Kerry-Boxer bill -- the Senate version of the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the House this summer -- the legislation aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a cap and trade system.
But the system has its critics. Proponents argue that for 22 to 30 cents a day per household, Americans will be in charge of their energy future and reduce dependence on foreign oil, but opponents counter that the bill will increase taxes and do little to avert climate change.
On Tuesday, The Environment and Public Works Committee heard statements from Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, and head of the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission, Jon Wellinghoff, all of whom pushed for swift legislation.
Since taking office, the Obama administration has signaled its support for a cleaner energy future, announcing billions of dollars in stimulus funding for renewable energy projects, and advocating climate change legislation.
President Obama was even praised for his work in combating global climate change when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month.
At the Senate hearing, Chu stressed that the United States should capitalize on the global need to cut emissions by taking the lead in renewable energy technology.
"When the starting gun sounded on the clean energy race, the United States stumbled," Chu told lawmakers. "But I remain confident that we can make up the ground."
From the $787 billion federal stimulus funds, $80 billion has already been set aside for investments in new battery technology, energy efficiency, and modernizing the electric grid.
Just Tuesday, Obama announced a $3.4 billion federal investment in "smart" electric grid technology.
"We're on the cusp of a new energy future," the president said, touting the technology, which he said will cut electricity usage by 4 percent by 2030.
Chu noted that there is a need for comprehensive climate legislation to go along with the stimulus funding.
Chu and other agency heads stressed the work their teams are doing in moving forward on Obama's clean energy agenda.
Salazar told Congress the Interior Department is involved in efforts to fast forward renewable energy projects this year.
The department has set aside 1,000 square miles for solar energy development projects.
"On those lands alone that could account for about 100,000 megawatts of power, enough to power 29 million homes, 29 percent of household needs," Salazar said.
The Interior Department is fast-tracking applications in Arizona, California, Nevada and New Mexico and expects to be able to permit 4,500 megawatts of solar power -- equivalent to about 14 or 15 coal fired power plants -- by the end of next year.