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The only way to win the clean energy race is to pass the clean energy bill

By Joe Romm on July 30, 2009 at 7:25 pm

"The only way to win the clean energy race is to pass the clean energy bill"

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Some 1970s-era liberals and old-school enviros think massive government spending is the only way to achieve the clean energy transition.  They could not be more wrong, as a particularly uninformed post by the otherwise cutting-edge Grist online magazine makes clear.

As a climate bill, Waxman-Markey is at best a B-, but as a clean energy bill, it is a solid A — though both sides of the bill should be improved.  Together with Obama’s other climate and clean energy efforts, it would, as I’ll explain, very quickly bring U.S. investments in clean energy technologies and industries close to the record-smashing levels now being set by the stimulus bill, nearly $100 billion a year.

BACKGROUND

I have spent two decades trying to accelerate the clean energy transformation of the US (and global) economy, since that is our only hope for averting catastrophic global warming impacts, Hell and High Water.  For a number of years in the mid-1990s, I helped run DOE’s billion-dollar Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), the largest program in the world (at the time) for working with businesses to develop and deploy the core clean energy technologies.

Over the years, the work of the office has been crucial in maintaining and expanding US leadership in key areas of clean energy.  In fact, its investments have the highest documented rate of return of any federal program.  The success of the office and its analytic work, especially the 5-Lab study that I initiated, oversaw, and publicized, played a key role in convincing the White House to engage positively in the Kyoto negotations in the face of strong opposition by Clinton’s entire economic team (see “The history of the ‘safety valve’ debate“).  You can read an account by Art Rosenfeld [the first article, his autobio] now California Energy Commissioner “” then science adviser to the assistant secretary of EERE.  Kyoto was not ratified here, of course, but it has ultimately driven many tens of billions of dollars in clean energy investment in Europe and Asia.

What I came to learn in the federal government was that no matter how much money the federal government spent — money that would always be constrained by moderates and conservatives in Congress and the vagaries of presidential elections — it would always pale in comparison to what the private sector must spend in any genuine clean energy transition, by at least a factor of ten or more.  Indeed, in the 5-lab study we specifically needed to model a modest CO2 price just to return to 1990 levels of CO2 emissions by 2010 — otherwise, all of the energy efficiency that we were driving the private sector to adopt mainly squeezed out new renewables and high-efficiency gas plants, not the least efficient coal plants.

GRIST FOR THOUGHT — NOT

So I was shocked, needless to say, when Grist magazine published an anachronistic (and falsehood-filled) piece yesterday, “Joe Romm’s strategy to lose the clean energy race.”  The amazingly flawed premise of this article is that the only way to win the clean energy race is massive government spending — spending of a kind that is not merely politically infeasible, but suicidal from the perspective of the human race.  Indeed, the article actually asserts that because I would like to pass a strengthened version of Waxman-Markey, I am embracing a strategy that would lose the clean energy race.

Who would write such old-school drivel?  Let’s call them The Big-government Institute (TBI) or The Bad Idea (TBI).  But I’m far less interested taking on the authors, who are stuck in the 1970s, or even Grist, who bizarrely published it, then in addressing the old-think at the core of their argument.

[Truly, being smeared by the disinformers of TBI (The Breakthrough Institute) puts one in very good company -- Al Gore, Barack Obama, Tom Friedman, Al Gore again, Rachel Carson, Henry Waxman, Barack Obama again, Congressional Democrats, Al Gore yet again, hundreds of the country's top scientists, and, of course, the entire environmental movement too many times to count (see "Memo to media: Don't be suckered by bad analyses from TBI").]

All TBI seems to care about is government funding of clean energy.  They seem utterly blind to the fact that the government could never plausibly spend even one tenth the amount of money needed to complete the clean energy transition.  Consider this paragraph in the Grist article:

In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the United States allocated over $60 billion to be spent over two years building American clean energy industries””an excellent start.  Yet the Waxman-Markey bill would slash that level of commitment by two-thirds.  Romm is apparently content with letting U.S. investments in clean energy technologies and industries lapse.  The Breakthrough Institute is not.

As readers know, in TBI’s original article that I debunked, TBI refused to even acknowledge the ARRA funding (see “Will America lose the clean-energy race? Only if we listen to the disinformers of The Breakthrough Institute“).  And even here they keep trying to lowball what Obama and Congress have done.  McKinsey says in a new report on the stimulus that it “appropriates $97 billion in energy-related funding.”  That, of course, is nearly two thirds of what Obama promised to deliver over 10 years!

More important, McKinsey adds that ARRA “aims to mobilize roughly $100 billion more in private capital.”  This is what The Big-government Institute doesn’t get about the strategy of Obama and the Congressional Democrats — the key is to leverage private sector funding, since the private sector is more than 10 times bigger than the public sector, and, of course, the private sector is the one that actually does all of the clean energy manufacturing and the overwhelming majority of the deployment.  So to the extent that ARRA works as planned, it should drive $200 billion dollars in investment — most of it spent over a 2-year period.

You can see TBI’s old-school thinking best in this sentence:

Yet the Waxman-Markey bill would slash that level of commitment by two-thirds. Romm is apparently content with letting U.S. investments in clean energy technologies and industries lapse. The Breakthrough Institute is not.

The only U.S. investments that TBI can conceive of are government investments.  In fact, the Waxman-Markey bill would dramatically increase U.S. investments in clean energy technologies and industries — once you realize that the U.S. is much more than just the government.

Let me do a rough calculation to show what I mean.  The new McKinsey report says an investment of “$520 billion [is] needed through 2020 for upfront investment in efficiency measures … to reduce end-use energy consumption in 2020 by 9.1 quadrillion BTUs” (which is a bit more than 10% of total energy use today).

According to the EPA analysis (which TBI endorses in its Grist piece), Waxman-Markey lowers demand 7 quads in 2020 compared to business as usual, and 9.4 quads in 2025 and 10.4 quads in 2030 (see “New EPA analysis of Waxman-Markey: Consumer electric bills 7% lower in 2020 thanks to efficiency “” plus 22 GW of extra coal retirements and no new dirty plants“).  That is similar to what the the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) calculates for the savings from W-M’s efficiency provisions — 5 quads saved in 2020 and 12.3 quads in 2030 (see “The triumph of energy efficiency: Waxman-Markey could save $3,900 per household and create 650,000 jobs by 2030“).

Let’s just keep this back-of-the envelope and say that the energy efficiency provisions of W-M save 9.1 quads in 2025, which, according to McKinsey, requires $520 billion in investment.  So, roughly, from 2012 to 2025, W-M will drive on average $40 billion a year in investment in energy efficiency — most of which, clearly, comes from the private sector.  Of course, in the early years, the investment is much smaller, and it grows over time as the building standards and appliance standards kick in and the emissions targets start to bite.  So by 2025, W-M may well be driving $60 billion in investment.

As an important aside, if you want to fully account for the massive energy efficiency investments being driven by President Obama, then you’d have to calculate the huge amount of investment that the car companies and eventually consumers will be making in fuel-efficient cars to meet the most aggressive increase in fuel economy standards proposed in decades “” Obama to raise new car fuel efficiency standard to 39 mpg by 2016 “” The biggest step the U.S. government has ever taken to cut CO2. Of course, those investments, as with the W-M investments, will pay for themselves in a few years, yielding pure savings (as well as major oil and climate benefits) for years and years to come.

The Obama administration has estimated the added cost of the new standard will be $1,300 per car, and save drivers $500 per year — if gasoline remains $3 per gallon.  Of course, once the global recession ends, we are headed back to $4 gasoline and probably $5 by the middle of next decade if not sooner (see here).  Some think the $1300 figure is low (see here) — and, of course, it only includes the extra cost of the vehicle, not the portion of the investment in efficiency that doesn’t add to the cost of the car.  So this one act by Obama will likely drive upward of $20 billion a year in U.S. investment in energy efficiency.

Back to Waxman-Markey.  It is tougher to figure out how much private sector investment in clean energy other than efficiency the bill would drive, since that depends crucially on things like the price of natural gas.  Also, because the stimulus drives so much new renewables into the market and W-M drives so much efficiency into the market, you don’t see a lot of extra low-carbon energy by 2020.  That really comes later.  Still, the single most important thing needed to stimulate private sector investment in low carbon technologies is raising the price of carbon, which this bill does steadily for decades.

I’ll just do a rough estimate that the bill leads to government spending in renewables, CCS, electric and advanced vehicles, and R&D of about $100 billion from 2012 to 2025 and that is matched by the private sector in research, development, demonstration, and deployment.  That’s almost certain a lowball estimate, since the bill also has a green bank in it designed to finance clean energy, and the venture capital community alone is likely to spend more than $10 billion a year once we pass sharply shrinking CO2 caps.  Also, since TBI seems wedded to counting promised spending by other countries, it’s only fair to count Obama’s promised increase in clean tech R&D (see Obama:  “Our future on this planet depends on our willingness to address the challenge posed by carbon pollution,” vows “we will exceed [R&D] level achieved at the height of the space race”).

So if we enact something like Waxman-Markey (preferably stronger) into law and if Obama is a 2-term president and thus sticks around long enough to fulfill his promises, then I expect by the 2020s, U.S. investments in clean energy technologies and industries would come close to the record-smashing levels now being set by the stimulus bill, roughly $100 billion a year.

Again, the overwhelming majority of those investments will be made by the private sector, which is as it should be, though not as TBI wants.

[Regular readers can skip the rest of this post, but I need to included for completeness sake.]

The most embarrassing thing about the Grist piece is that Grist lets TBI print these outrageous lies:

The Breakthrough Institute believes the gathering clean energy race demands a vigorous and sustained commitment to clean energy technology and industries and has called on Congress to strengthen U.S. climate legislation, boosting clean energy investments from its current level of $10 billion per year to at least $30-$50 billion per year.  In contrast, Romm ardently supports weaker legislation that would invest just $10 billion per year in clean energy and energy efficiency, less than one quarter of China’s planned investments.  That may be acceptable to Joe Romm””but it is no way to win the clean energy race.

If you follow the link, it’s quite clear that I don’t ardently support W-M, I just think it is infinitely superior to the alternative — the status quo, which is what TBI is primarily pursuing.  And, as I’ve shown, W-M coupled with Obama’s other initatives, will drive a staggering amount of investment in clean energy and energy efficiency — ten times what TBI claims with their narrow Big Government focus.  Ironically, while parts of the clean energy side of the bill should be strengthened, particularly the renewable energy standard, it is the climate side of the bill that is the weakest, as I’ve said many times.  Yet bizarrely TBI, which cares much more about clean energy than global warming, hates a bill they should love.  Nordhaus even admitted on CP, “We have argued for five years now that efforts to build the clean energy economy needed to be centrally defined around energy independence not global warming.” Climate science activists they ain’t.

What is most egregious about the Grist piece is that, as pretty much everybody inside the DC beltway knows, TBI has dedicated the resources of their organization to killing prospects for climate and clean energy action in this Congress and to spreading disinformation about Obama, Gore, Congressional leaders, Waxman and Markey, and anyone else trying to end our status quo energy policies (see “Memo to media: Don’t be suckered by bad analyses from TBI” and “The dynamic duo of disinformation and doubletalk return” and “”Shellenberger and Nordhaus smear Gore by making stuff up“).

TBI is directly lobbying members of Congress to kill the bill.  They are directly lobbying the press to trash it.  They do NOT want to strengthen U.S. climate legislation.  In a press call notification sent to many in the media, TBI stated:

We support a cap and trade policy that:
1) Auctions 100 percent of the pollution allowances;
2) Sets the price for carbon dioxide at between $8 – $12/ton, using safety valves;
3) Does not allow offsetting; and
4) Dedicates all the money from revenues (between $48 bi and $72 bi per year) to technology innovation.

That’s right.  TBI supports a policy that is effectively a poison pill that would kill any chance of national or global action to avert catastrophic global warming:

  1. It would probably get no votes whatsoever in either House of Congress “” since it raises energy prices a little across the board but doesn’t give a nickel of it back to consumers, businesses, or low income households.
  2. It does nothing whatsoever to stop new coal plants “” and in fact encourages them by removing from the table a shrinking cap that renders new dirty coal plants unprofitable.
  3. It does not offer any strategy in the near-, medium, or long-term for beating the 2.5 to 3 cents a kWh cost of existing coal.  As I think is rather obvious to anybody but The Breakthrough Institute, all the “breakthroughs” in the world can’t make a new zero carbon power plant cheaper than an existing coal plant (see “Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 3: The breakthrough technology illusion“).
  4. And it fails to mandate targets that would allow international negotiations with other countries as part of either the UNFCCC process at Copenhagen or a bilateral agreement with China.

This proposal is just old-school BIG GOVERNMENT.  It is a joke, an insult to genuine climate science advocates and a bigger insult to clean energy advocates.  No one advancing it has any business criticizing Waxman-Markey or criticizing anyone trying to pass a strengthened version of W-M.

Let me end with TBI’s final hypocrisy, from the original op-ed piece that started this:

If America does not take immediate action to bridge its energy education gap — and if we fail to make substantially larger investments in our own clean-energy economy — we will effectively cede the clean-energy race to Asia. A decade from now, we may still find the burgeoning clean-energy economy promised by Obama and Democratic leaders. It will simply be headquartered in China.

Waxman-Markey is far from perfect, as I’ve said many times, but at least it has a serious chance of becoming law, as the House demonstrated, something that could never be said about TBI’s proposal.  Indeed, right now, whatever you think about W-M’s climate provisions, one can state with absolute certainty that passing a bill like it is our only politically plausible chance of beating China in the clean energy race.

Ironically, or perhaps intentionally, if we don’t get a climate and clean energy bill, it will be at least in part due to the disinformation spread by TBI.  It is time for everyone — including Grist — to see TBI as the opponent of clean energy and climate action that they are.

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17 Responses to The only way to win the clean energy race is to pass the clean energy bill

  1. Ken Johnson says:

    Big Government is good at lunar missions and fighting big wars, but I would agree that a properly incentivized private sector is better suited to the task of decarbonizing the national economy. However, it’s not clear to me that industry would be “properly incentivized” under Waxman-Markey’s cap-and-trade system.

    Case in point: “Obama to raise new car fuel efficiency standard to 39 mpg by 2016 — The biggest step the U.S. government has ever taken to cut CO2.” Actually, under W-M the fuel efficiency standard wouldn’t do anything to cut U.S. CO2 output. Transportation fuels are within the cap, so to the extent that fuel efficiency reduces transportation emissions, the resulting surplus emission allowances would simply allow equivalent emission increases elsewhere (e.g. from coal combustion).

    Cap-and-trade basically kills any incentive for reducing emissions beyond the predetermined (and unsustainable) cap limit. Moreover, the monolithic, economy-wide regulatory framework of W-M’s cap-and-trade system simply invites “monolithic, economy-wide” political opposition. So what’s the point of cap-and-trade?

    [JR: We've been through this and it is getting tiresome. By your logic, CAFE is bad because it reduces any incentive to buy a more efficient vehicle. The point is to achieve the economy wide savings that aren't being captured.]

    As Romm stated, “the single most important thing needed to stimulate private sector investment in low carbon technologies is raising the price of carbon,” but cap-and-trade operates fundamentally to lower — not raise — the price of carbon.

    [JR: This is just an absurd statement.]

    The most efficient way to raise the price of carbon is to directly raise the price of carbon. That doesn’t necessarily imply a “carbon tax” as conventionally understood. For example, carbon fees could be applied in the electricity sector to subsidize new, renewable energy sources, giving the latter a $100-per-ton price advantage over fossil fuels. But that doesn’t imply a $100-per-ton fee. Actually, the fee would initially be zero, because there would initially be no “new” sources. An initial fee of substantially zero would give new renewables an immediate $100-per-ton price advantage. How would the economy respond to that kind of stimulus?

    [JR: Uhh, it wouldn't happen, so the economy wouldn't respond.]

  2. Pete O'Connor says:

    That’s BTI’s plan? On top of the issues you raised, Joe, I’d add that an $8-12/ton “safety valve” — which is automatically going to be engaged — means that it’s really an $8-12/ton CO2 tax, not a cap-and-trade scheme. And *none* of that tax revenue rebated in a payroll tax cut? Really?

    Not to mention their stupidity in pushing the “energy independence” argument. Energy independence is an argument for coal, the organic marlstone fraud, and ANWR drilling. Surrendering on the climate change argument is a terrible and cowardly idea.

  3. lizardo says:

    I saw the TBI piece on Grist earlier today (by the time I finish typing this I should say yesterday) and the fallacious argument was immediately apparent to me, that of comparing total investment in one country to government investment via one bill in another, when some countries have nationalized energy systems and the US doesn’t.

    By their lights they should have included all the spending on advanced nuclear plants (if they consider it a clean energy which I don’t) 26 plants times $12 billion is $312 billion…

    The authors are very young and TBI are a bunch of shameless self-promoters IMO.

  4. pete best says:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/31/network-climate-change

    Roger Pielke Jr writes this peice for the Environment News Network in the UK Guardian newspaper about symbolism in politics. I thought he was a denier but this seems to accept it.

    [JR: "Seems" is the key word. He pretends to believe in the science so that he can be treated credibly by the media as a policy contrarian. But this piece is absurdly hypocritical, because Pielke doesn't support any measures that would possibly solve the problem. When has the nation or the world ever achieved significant reduction in a major pollutant without binding targets?]

  5. john says:

    A long time ago, S&N wrote a piece entitled The Death of Environmentalism. Their thesis was that people no longer supported the kind of “intrusive” approach to environmental protection that characterized most environmetal law to date. Then they proposed moonshot-like free lunch techno-fixes. They got lots of press and media attention, and never looked back.

    You can see this perspective still in BTI’s Grist article: “W-M’s cap-and-trade system simply invites “monolithic, economy-wide” political opposition. So what’s the point of cap-and-trade?”

    One small problem: The public overwhelmingly supports action on Climate Change — it is only the intense PR campaign being waged by conservatives, corporaists and innocent dupes (or not so innocent fellow travellars — can’t have it both ways, BTI) that keeps it from being stronger.

    So the point of cap and trade is to respond to the more than 70% of Americans who support strong action on climate change with an economically rational policy.

    So how does that fit with your thesis, BTI? Sort of blows it out of the water, and no amount of sophistic ranting about “slashed investments” will alter that.

    As for Grist: shame on you for publishing this obvious crap.

  6. DavidCOG says:

    Off topic:

    Joe,

    The Guardian have re-published Junior’s latest ‘do nothing at all costs’ diatribe: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/31/network-climate-change

    Also, Lomborg has been given 24 columns to date – http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/bjrnlomborg.

    Despite the Guardian’s generally admirable climate coverage, is this ‘print the controversy’ policy worth a broadside from you?

    And my other beef with them is their moderation policy – you can write any falsehood you like, no matter how idiotic, as long as it’s not directed at an individual and doesn’t expose the paper to litigation. As a result it’s a comfortable environment for the most egregious deniers who swamp the climate threads.

  7. Chris Winter says:

    DavidCOG wrote: “As a result [The Guardian] is a comfortable environment for the most egregious deniers who swamp the climate threads.”

    Much like the Boston Globe, then — at least in the comments to Jeff Jacoby’s columns.

  8. pete best says:

    Can’t believe a word he says although I am unsure as to the true merits of any cap and trade policy. I know that politics is complex and the IPCC reports are more scientific until the political process moderates and even plays down AGW as a future threat. One example is that the AGW forcing effect is 10x stronger than present natural forcings but the political proces made it 5x.

    I fear the conservative nature of science and politics. That is partly what makes James Hansens stance so powerful.

  9. That is the first thing I noticed about TBI. They believe they are leading us into the future by promoting technological innovation, but actually they use an outdated command-and-control approach.

    The way to get technological innovation is to raise the price of carbon emissions significantly. Then venture capitalists will fund a huge number of startups working on new clean energy technologies, and a few of those startups will develop the technological breakthroughs that are needed.

    By contrast, TBI opposes a significant increase in the price of emissions, and it wants the federal government to decide which new clean energy technologies to fund. That sort of thinking was the basis of the Soviet economy and was why the Soviet economy failed.

    TBI is promoting an approach that everyone believed in the 1950s but that is thoroughly discredited today.

  10. Ken Johnson says:

    John — Your comment #5 seems to (maybe inadvertently) ascribe my comment #1 to TBI’s Grist article. I’m not affiliated with TBI, and I wasn’t trying to defend their position. As I understand it, TBI’s focus on “breakthrough technology” is based on the premise that a meaningful carbon price would not be politically viable, so we need a massive gov’t R&D effort to make clean energy cost-competitive without price subsidies. (That’s my interpretation, which might be oversimplified — please don’t ascribe it to TBI.) One point I was trying to make was that a high price incentive does not necessarily imply high cost, e.g. a $100-per-ton new-source subsidy for clean electricity generation could be financed with a carbon fee that would initially be substantially zero.

    Joe — Thank you for your insightful perspectives :)
    In your response to Pete (#4) you asked “When has the nation or the world ever achieved significant reduction in a major pollutant without binding targets?” I think it is also fair to ask “When has the nation or the world ever tried?” There is one notable test case: In 1990 the Swedish parliament enacted legislation to reduce stationary-source NOx emissions, with the intent of achieving a 35% reduction within 5 years. The regulations did not impose any emission caps, standards, or timetables, and was substantially revenue neutral within the regulated sector, and yet by 1995 it had achieved a 60% reduction in specific NOx emissions from regulated sources (50% with demand growth).
    (I don’t know whether this has any relevance to the Pielke article, which I haven’t read.)

  11. Will says:

    Bravo Joe. The government’s primary function should be to encourage and spur growth in the private clean-energy industry through incentives, tax cuts, and most importantly putting a price on carbon. It should not be to buy the turbines or mirrors themselves.

  12. Start Loving says:

    Joseph Romm – you are an American Hero. God bless your work. Keep on!

  13. Dan Galpern says:

    Joe,

    Very good post.

    I did not, however, understand your response to Ken Johnson.

    The economic incentive for efficiency investments at the individual level remains under C&T.

    But I think one of Ken’s point is that GHG reductions that would otherwise be achieved are lost under a cap with a trading system that operates to depress allowances prices because, as with more fuel efficient autos, refineries will have lower emissions thus lowering overall demand.

    Thus, the climate benefit from initiatives here — whether pursuant to federal standards or mandates, or state or local initiatives, or individual or corporate purchases in the voluntary renewables market — will be, at least in part, nullified by additional emissions elsewhere.

    So the problem is that the presently-conceived cap and trading system may operate to nullify the additional climate benefits that would otherwise be anticipated from other actions. This is a problem, of course, only if you accept that an adequate response to the climate crisis requires a maximum effort (within bounds of affordability and technological realism) — an “all-hands-on-deck effort,” as the President put it.

    If so, then whatever federal system is implemented should ensure the additionality of actions outside the C&T scheme — for example, by setting-aside and retiring allowances commensurate with complementary actions whose climate benefits can be adequately evaluated (say, by EPA).

    Otherwise, the purported climate-benefits advanced by advocates to justify state action or local government programs, and the marketing of individual and corporate purchases in the voluntary renewables market, and so on, will be largely undermined.

    [JR: Yes, mandatory regimes do (slightly) reduce the incentive of some people to take voluntary action -- but historically, they have also led many other people and businesses to do things that do in fact go beyond compliance. In any case, what you propose is impossible to put in legislative language. Just how could possibly figure out what CO2 and energy savings were driven by the provisions of the bill and which were not? And people say Waxman-Markey is already too complicated. Seriously, reducing GHG emissions 42% by 2030 and 83% by 2050 is a plenty big challenge for the country to achieve and the government to help oversee.]

  14. William says:

    Dear Joe, Time Magazine ran an article today on how the USA is falling behind in the “clean energy race,” suggesting that Waxman-Markey should be strengthened with larger federal investment in clean energy innovation:

    http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1913781,00.html

    What do you think of this article? My colleagues and I would be very interested to hear your perspective. The article highlights Secretary Chu’s energy innovation hubs and Asia’s new investments in clean energy, including China, South Korea, and Japan, citing the Brookings Institution and Breakthrough Institute. It sounds similar to what Norris and Jenkins said in the extended version of their SF Chronicle op-ed. Keep up the good work and hope to hear from you soon.

    [JR: Thanks to conservatives -- who have killed off every major effort to substantially increase clean energy funding until Obama showed up -- we have been losing the race. Obama and the Democrats in Congress have turned things around with a bigger increase in clean energy funding than every administration in the past three decades combined. One can't spend too much money on clean energy research, but, as I've detailed here, passing the clean energy bill must be the central strategy for anyone who wants to make the United States the leader in clean energy investment. TBI is trying to kill the bill, so they are agents of the status quo, no matter what some of their younger staff say. Sad to see Time magazine get suckered by TBI's big lie "By contrast, on the campaign trail Obama promised to spend $150 billion over 10 years just on clean energy research."]

  15. David Lewis says:

    Hendrick Hertzberg, a senior editor at The New Yorker, writing in the Aug 3 issue, on Congress and health care, but his comments apply in the debate about whether to support Waxman-Markey:

    “…In other free countries, legislation, social and otherwise, gets made in a fairly straightforward manner. There is an election, in which the voters, having paid attention to the issues for six weeks or so, choose a government. The governing party or coalition then enacts its program, and the voters get a chance to render a verdict on it the next time they go to the polls. Through one or another variation of this process, the people of every other wealthy democracy on earth have obtained for themselves some form of guaranteed health insurance or universal health care.

    The way we do it is, shall we say, more exciting. For us, an election is only the opening broadside in a series of protracted political battles of heavy artillery and hand-to-hand fighting. A President may fancy that he has a mandate (and, morally, he may well have one), but the two separately elected, differently constituted, independent legislatures whose acquiescence he needs are under no compulsion to agree. Within those legislatures, a system of overlapping committees dominated by powerful chairmen creates a plethora of veto points where well-organized special interests can smother or distort a bill meant to benefit a large but amorphous public. In the smaller of the two legislatures—which is even more heavily weighted toward conservative rural interests than is the larger one, and where one member may represent as little as one-seventieth as many people as the member in the next seat—an arcane and patently unconstitutional rule, the filibuster, allows a minority of members to block almost any action. The process that results is less like the Roman Senate than like the Roman Games: a sanguinary legislative Colosseum where at any moment some two-bit emperor is apt to signal the thumbs-down….”

    http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2009/08/03/090803taco_talk_hertzberg

    Hertzberg again, from a podcast, “The Political Scene”:

    “…we don’t have a government capable of delivering results in a straightforward manner. Our health care system is a disastrous mess now, its going to be a disastrous mess after any conceivable politically possible reform, it might be a little bit better after that reform, but look this guy was elected by what now passes for a landslide, and the fate of this program rests with a few nervous Nellie blue dog democrats, a couple of cranky Republicans, its easy to recommend he tell everybody they’re going to have to pay big more taxes, but in our political system its never going to get any better than this. We’re not going to get a better President, we’re unlikely to have a Congress that’s more liberal than this one, if something doesn’t happen now, its an indictment of our system…”

    I learned a lot about Congress (I am Canadian, recently moved to the US) from Henry Waxman’s book “The Waxman Report: How Congress Really Works”.

    Joe Romm’s emphatic support of the Waxman-Markey bill is much more understandable to me after studying the US political system more directly now that I live here….

    [JR: Thank you, I think. Certainly the founding fathers knew that they were putting forward a government of checks and balances, though I'm certain they had no conception that ne of the two dominant political parties would devote itself using the most despicable tactics and demagoguery against any bill in the public interest.]

  16. Jacob says:

    Joe, why is it that the more you criticize TBI, the more their work gets picked up by the media [snip]?

    [JR: Seriously? Yes, and the more I criticize the deniers the more they keep doing it. Indeed, since I've started criticizing Watts, his readership has soared! And the more the police fight crime, the more criminals there seem to be. You have the relationship and causality backwards, though. My policy here is to ignore TBI as much as possible but debunk them when they breakthrough to the MSM.

    I do not flatter myself that my work has much impact on the media coverage one way or another -- the generally crappy media coverage of the issue should make that clear enough. The Time reporter should have read my blog, though -- then he wouldn't have made the mistakes he did. The media loves the phony contrarians like TBI, Pielke, and Lomborg -- the ones who pretend to be environmentalists or claim that they believe climate science but then trash everyone who proposes serious solutions and/or attack the scientists themselves. Nothing I can do about that except set the record straight for those who are interested in the facts. The alternative of course is simply to ignore the disinformation and the disinformers, which frankly had been the strategy for most in the past decade. The net result of that has not been pretty, as the public opinion polls make clear.

    Finally, TBI is an organization with lots of staff, which has realized its best chance for MSM coverage is to devote its entire effort to creating and spreading disinformation on the clean energy bill. They are aggressively lobbying and reaching out to every major media outlet on a constant basis with a torrent of original disinformation. I devote maybe 1% of my efforts and posts to debunking them. I am flattered you would think that 1% of my effort could match their entire staff, but it can't.]

  17. Ken Johnson says:

    Joe – A couple footnotes to your comment in response to Dan Galpern:

    Re “Just how could [EPA] possibly figure out what CO2 and energy savings were driven by the provisions of the bill and which were not?”: This is similar to the problem of “additionality” that is encountered with offsets. The additionality criteria for EPA-administered set asides need not be as stringent as offsets because they would not affect the integrity of the cap; they would only affect allocation. An example of a local program that might qualify for an allowance set-aside would be municipal financing for residential solar installations. Such a program would not achieve, and could not claim, environmental benefits unless the surplus allowances resulting from the program are retired. Other examples of qualified programs would be California’s planned “Pavley 2″ regulations and 33 percent Renewables Portfolio Standard, both of which will exceed federal standards.

    The issue of additionality was raised in NRDC’s recent Senate testimony on ACES (p. 24-25): “The bill should also provide a means to assure that the carbon reduction benefits of these state energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment programs will not be lost when we have a national carbon cap. The bill should allow EPA to reduce the national cap by an appropriate amount if states show that their in-state programs have reduced emissions beyond the national program and in a way that does not raise allowance prices in other states.”

    Re “… reducing GHG emissions 42% by 2030 and 83% by 2050 is a plenty big challenge for the country to achieve …”: Indeed, and the federal legislation should encourage and support complementary state and local policies to help meet the challenge.