Environment Forum

Obama in fuel efficiency driver’s seat

President Bush is pulling out of the race to set the next round of car fuel efficiency standards before his term in office ends. That means President-to-be Obama will decide how fast Detroit should be pushed toward a car and light-truck standard of at least 35 mpg. That’s the goal set by Congress for 2020, but the president gets to decide how fast to move in the phased implementation.

With Detroit drooping, Bush thinks a little breathing room is needed. Environmentalists, meanwhile, are eager for quick action by Obama. The Transportation Department has until April to finalize the 2011-2015 target.

(Picture: Reuters)

Green jobs really on the way? New U.S. solar plants announced this week

Are those green jobs Obama has been promising already on their way? Really?

Despite a weak global economy and all the gloom that has brought to the solar industry of late, two solar companies this week quietly bucked the trend by announcing new manufacturing plants here in the United States.

On Monday, Hemlock Semiconductor said it would invest up to $3 billion to expand U.S. production of polysilicon, the key raw material used to make solar cells and semiconductors.  That will include $1.2 billion to build a new facility in Clarksville, Tennesee, and up to $1 billion to expand its current operations in Hemlock, Michigan. The company said the investment will create 800 permanent positions at the plants (and a few hundred more once Clarksville is expanded) and 1,800 construction jobs.

A day later, Signet Solar said it will build a solar panel manufacturing plant in Belen, New Mexico. The first phase of the plant will create 200 jobs, though ultimately it will employ about 600 people, the Menlo Park, California-based company said.

T. Boone Pickens working on solar

boonepickens.jpgT. Boone Pickens, the billionaire oil investor who is building the largest wind farm in the United States, is also setting his sights on solar power.

Pickens last month launched a campaign aimed at weaning the United States off its dependence on foreign oil and is in the midst of a nation-wide tour to promote it. Following a speech in Los Angeles, Pickens told me he is looking beyond his wind investments to solar energy and is eager to share his “Pickens Plan” with both of the U.S. presidential candidates. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: Do you think your plan to meet with  Obama and McCain will happen any time soon?