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“Grand Bargain” of Clean Energy Research Feels More Like Lip Service

More lip service on clean energy. (photo: Annie in Beziers via Flickr)

Given the demise of cap and trade with barely a shot fired (well, OK, one shot), people concerned about the environment have been searching for some other proposal around which to rally, one that would serve to mitigate the climate crisis as well shift the country to a new, clean-energy economy. I think they’ve settled on pouring money into innovation.

Extreme political polarization on energy and climate has stalled long-term action on the issues for decades, according to a new report from major liberal and conservative think tanks. The study calls for a “post-partisan” plan that nixes controversial cap-and-trade programs and backs away from dirty fossil fuels in favor of clean energy technology incentives.

“The entire climate and energy agenda that we’ve been talking about for several years now has hit a dead end, to it’s time to hit the reset button,” said Steven Hayward, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a co-author of the study.

AEI will release the report Wednesday along with the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution and the Breakthrough Institute.

The country is actually already doing this. The Energy Department has eight innovation hubs to solve pressing energy issues. But each of these hubs call for $25 million a year; the AEI-Brookings proposal seeks $25 BILLION annually for clean energy technology projects.

The report claims broad popularity on these issues, and it’s true in one sense – climate skeptics like Bjorn Lomborg see value in technology and green energy research as an alternative to caps on carbon. But if you think about the above paragraph, and the fact that this Congress has difficulty appropriating 1/1000th of what a conservative-led report claims would be needed to realize the potential of green energy, you can see this as more of a talking point than anything. Conservatives don’t want to spend money on clean energy research, they want to talk about it. And they want to call it “clean energy” and not renewable energy so they can add nuclear power – and perhaps “clean coal” – into the mix.  . . .

I think that lowering the cost of clean energy is necessary and desirable, and that research should go forward. Just don’t expect a lot of cooperation on it. More likely, you’ll hear about taxpayer money financing pie-in-the-sky “liberal dreams.” And the party of the fossil fuel industry won’t make much effort to fund their eventual destruction. Consider how the report wants to fund the clean energy research – by adding royalties to drilling, cutting fossil fuel subsidies, and surcharges on oil imports. Surely that will be a snap!

“We didn’t tax typewriters to get the computer. We didn’t tax telegraphs to get telephones,” says Michael Shellenberger, president of the Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, Calif., which is a sponsor of the proposal with A.E.I. and Brookings. “When you look at the history of technological innovation, you find that state investment is everywhere.”

But the whole point of this policy IS to tax oil to fund clean energy research. I support that, but don’t see a whole lot of help inside Congress for such a scheme.

I agree that a global price for carbon won’t be happening in the near future. I just don’t trust the other side to follow through on this.

CommunityThe Bullpen

“Grand Bargain” of Clean Energy Research Feels More Like Lip Service

Given the demise of cap and trade with barely a shot fired (well, OK, one shot), people concerned about the environment have been searching for some other proposal around which to rally, one that would serve to mitigate the climate crisis as well shift the country to a new, clean-energy economy. I think they’ve settled on pouring money into innovation.

Extreme political polarization on energy and climate has stalled long-term action on the issues for decades, according to a new report from major liberal and conservative think tanks. The study calls for a “post-partisan” plan that nixes controversial cap-and-trade programs and backs away from dirty fossil fuels in favor of clean energy technology incentives.

“The entire climate and energy agenda that we’ve been talking about for several years now has hit a dead end, to it’s time to hit the reset button,” said Steven Hayward, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a co-author of the study.

AEI will release the report Wednesday along with the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution and the Breakthrough Institute.

The country is actually already doing this. The Energy Department has eight innovation hubs to solve pressing energy issues. But each of these hubs call for $25 million a year; the AEI-Brookings proposal seeks $25 BILLION annually for clean energy technology projects.

The report claims broad popularity on these issues, and it’s true in one sense – climate skeptics like Bjorn Lomborg see value in technology and green energy research as an alternative to caps on carbon. But if you think about the above paragraph, and the fact that this Congress has difficulty appropriating 1/1000th of what a conservative-led report claims would be needed to realize the potential of green energy, you can see this as more of a talking point than anything. Conservatives don’t want to spend money on clean energy research, they want to talk about it. And they want to call it “clean energy” and not renewable energy so they can add nuclear power – and perhaps “clean coal” – into the mix.

I think that lowering the cost of clean energy is necessary and desirable, and that research should go forward. Just don’t expect a lot of cooperation on it. More likely, you’ll hear about taxpayer money financing pie-in-the-sky “liberal dreams.” And the party of the fossil fuel industry won’t make much effort to fund their eventual destruction. Consider how the report wants to fund the clean energy research – by adding royalties to drilling, cutting fossil fuel subsidies, and surcharges on oil imports. Surely that will be a snap!

“We didn’t tax typewriters to get the computer. We didn’t tax telegraphs to get telephones,” says Michael Shellenberger, president of the Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, Calif., which is a sponsor of the proposal with A.E.I. and Brookings. “When you look at the history of technological innovation, you find that state investment is everywhere.”

But the whole point of this policy IS to tax oil to fund clean energy research. I support that, but don’t see a whole lot of help inside Congress for such a scheme.

I agree that a global price for carbon won’t be happening in the near future. I just don’t trust the other side to follow through on this.

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David Dayen

David Dayen