Can America Overcome Its Split Personality On Energy?

by Kate Gordon

The past two weeks have brought home this country’s split personality when it comes to our energy policy.

Maybe it’s because I just moved from Washington, D.C. to California that I’m unusually focused on the entrenched differences between national and state policy, but it sure seems like America will never overcome the two separate identities: one that recognizes the need to continue moving toward a more secure, diversified, and sustainable energy future, and one that clings to the status quo.

Here’s an example. Last week the House of Representatives voted to pass the 2013 appropriations bill for energy and water programs, which essentially determines national spending level for key water and energy infrastructure next year. Here’s what the measure does: it cuts $75 million — nearly one-third of the entire program budget — from the popular ARPA-E program, which funds some of the most critical cutting-edge research on new and advanced energy technologies so that they can be commercialized in the U.S. and bring back jobs and profits to U.S. companies. It cuts funding by half a billion dollars for the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program, which provides targeted support for advanced vehicles, advanced manufacturing and other clean energy programs that are revitalizing regions like Detroit, Toledo, and Richmond California. It cuts funding for basic research and scientific data collection from the Energy Information Administration and the Office of Science.

These reductions may seem small in the overall budget debate, but they’re critical for America’s energy future — and, in fact, for our overall competitiveness. We are an innovation-based economy facing one of the world’s greatest challenges in the threat of climate change. We can’t afford to undermine our own universities, labs, and entrepreneurs as they work to find creative answers to that threat, and to turn those answers into profitable, commercializable, exportable products for the global market — a market, by the way, that saw record investments in renewable energy last year. It’s sheer lunacy to gut these programs, which leverage billions in private financing while creating jobs and homegrown industries. That’s why a bipartisan group of 165 House members opposed the bill when it came to a vote last Wednesday, and why the White House has flat out stated it will veto the bill if it comes to the President’s desk in its current form.

But wait: America has a whole other personality that’s forging ahead toward a new energy future. States like California are leading the way on innovative energy solutions. Last week, as Congress was sticking its head in the sand, the Environmental Defense Fund and Collaborative Economics released a report showing that California’s major clean energy sectors have been booming since the 1990s. These sectors, including renewable energy, efficiency, clean transportation, and energy storage, haven’t just grown in the past 20 years — they’ve outpaced growth in the state’s economy as a whole, even during the worst years of the recession: Employment in these sectors has jumped 109 percent since 1995, while employment in the state as a whole grew only 12 percent. And these numbers will only go up once the state implements its program to cap carbon emissions, known as A.B. 32.

Importantly, the largest share of new jobs in California was in firms that mostly do advanced manufacturing, in clean energy and also more traditional industries. The manufacturing sector, as I’ve argued before, contributes more to our overall innovation and competitive edge than any other sector in the American economy.

So what’s going on here? Apparently, America has a split personality: one side, clutching to the fading glory of a fossil fuel-driven past, believing the best energy policy is to cut off support for new ideas and solutions; the other side, eager for innovation and the jobs it creates, is turning to California and other states that are leading the way toward America’s advanced energy future.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, multiple personality disorders usually occur after some kind of trauma, and the affected person adopts a new personality to find a “temporary mental escape.” Perhaps Congress, faced with the enormity of climate change, is simply looking for a way to cope. Or maybe our national leaders truly believe that energy policies supporting natural resource extraction and export serve our future better than more advanced, more sustainable policies that support invention, sophisticated manufacturing and advanced energy technologies that can serve the booming global energy marketplace.

Whatever is causing Congress’s mental state when it comes to energy, the result is undermining America’s climate stability, energy security, and economic prosperity. It’s time to seek therapy, and to do what’s right to get America on a healthy track to leading the energy future.

Kate Gordon is Director of Advanced Energy and Sustainability at the Center for the Next Generation. She is also a CAP Senior Fellow. This piece was originally published at the Huffington Post and was reprinted with permission.

7 Responses to Can America Overcome Its Split Personality On Energy?

  1. Sasparilla says:

    Kate, what is causing Congress’s mental states with regards to energy is easy to understand. Look at national polls the majority of Americans including about half the Republicans want clean energy and action on climate change. It was that way 6 years ago and its that way today.

    The thing that has changed is the meddling and absolute control of the Republican party by the vested interests of fossil fuels – the companies themselves but the Koch Brothers (created and control the Cato institute) in particular…Google what they have done over the last decade (currently any Republican that votes for Green Energy or Climate Change action or even talks positively about them will get a well funded primary challenger courtesy of these guys, their money and their political front groups – its basically a political death sentence to vote for those things) – they have almost absolute control on these issues of the GOP at the national level. The Koch’s and their associated interests want green energy dead as well – that is why the GOP is now killing it piece by piece when they weren’t doing it previously.

    They are now in the process of attempting to bring that control down to the state level (with serious money and knowledge they will probably be quite successful). Its not a split personality at all – our political system has been hijacked by a small group of billionaires and massive energy companies who want fossil fuels to the end no matter what and kill anything else – and they’re making that a reality via the GOP (which didn’t do that before).

  2. Leif says:

    All financed by the Corporate ability to pollute the commons for personal profit. I cannot do that, nor can you, unless you have some skin in the game. Corporations are people now, I call them Corpro/People, and having accepted that ruling they have a new avenue to make their $$$ VOTE! However they lobby to ignore the fiduciary people law of not polluting your neighbors property for profits. Even the President could not escape ramifications of getting caught throwing a paper cup out the car window yet we all expel toxins out the tailpipe with abandon, because the “right” people get rich. The ability to pollute the commons for personal wealth is the fundamental foundation of Western capitalism and clearly a failed paradigm and transition to another is clearly traumatic. But then, so is Ecocide. Stop profits from polluting!

  3. SecularAnimist says:

    Kate Gordon wrote: “… one side, clutching to the fading glory of a fossil fuel-driven past, believing the best energy policy is to cut off support for new ideas and solutions …”

    With all due respect, that’s very poetic and all, but that “side” is not “clutching to the fading glory of a fossil fuel-driven past”.

    That “side” — which consists of a handful of giant corporations and their bought-and-paid-for stooges in Congress — is clutching at the trillions of dollars in profit that they expect to rake in from a business-as-usual, fossil-fuel-driven FUTURE.

    And they don’t care what the “best energy policy” is — they care about using their entrenched wealth and power to DESTROY COMPETITION from “new ideas and solutions”.

    The real title of this article should be “Can American overcome the death-grip of the fossil fuel corporations on national energy policy?”

    We need less pop psychology about “split personalities” and more naming of names.

  4. To paraphrase Dickens, these are the worst of time, these are the best of times.

    It is the worst of time because we continue to ignore or deny so many things; that our world is really warming up, that science tells us the truth about where this will end unless we change, that it is possible to put out of mind the undeniable fact that people are now dying because of our inaction.

    It is the best of times because we never had it so good; intercontinental travel in hours, immediate connections to everything and everyone, entertainments options to take us away from all of that. It is truly the best of times because we have the opportunity to create a future… if only we can agree to give up a portion of our comfortable lives.

  5. Forest says:

    Jeff Rubin’s new best seller “The End of Growth” argues that with the end of easy oil, our current dirty oil (from tar sands, gulf, arctic, fracking)will be so expensive that most industries and individuals will not be able to afford it; they will cut back or switch to alternatives. That catalyst wil have a significantly greater effect on cutting carbon emissions and profits of big oil than any Kyoto agreement. I hope he is right. If not, then activism is about all that is left.

  6. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The split in the USA and all capitalist states is class-based. Just as Karlo Marx, the hairy Brother, observed. A pity he’s dead, because, with his prescience regarding the ‘metabolic rift’ between Nature and industrial society, he would have had some interesting insights.

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Very well observed. The fossil fuel genocidaires showed their ruthless, amoral, opportunism when they bought up the networks of trams and trolley-cars, then ripped up the tracks and replaced them with buses and the private motor-car. This type never changes and never will.