One of the odder things to happen in Washington, DC is that after Solyndra went bust, we suddenly had a lot of people pretending that there’s an important partisan debate in the Beltway focused on principled opposition to energy subsidies. As Eric Lipton writes in the New York Times, that’s simply not the case:
Mr. McConnell made two personal appeals in 2009, asking Energy Secretary Steven Chu to approve as much as $235 million in federal loans for a plant to build electric vehicles in Franklin, Ky.
“I hope you will realize the importance of such job creation to Kentucky,” Mr. McConnell said in a July 2009 memo supporting an application from Zap Motor Manufacturing. […]
But in 2009, [Rep Lamar] Smith wrote to Mr. Chu asking him to approve loan guarantees from stimulus money for a Texas project proposed by Tessera Solar, documents show.
Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan and another critic of the Energy Department program, signed letters along with other members of the Michigan delegation in 2009 and 2010, pushing at least five clean-energy projects in his state, including a $207 million loan request from EcoMotors International. And Representative Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida, praised the opening last year of a lithium-ion battery manufacturing plant in his state, which relied upon an Energy Department grant.
We had the Sen. David Vitter version of this crony capitalism yesterday. And, of course, green tech and green energy is only a relatively small piece of the overall energy pie in the United States, and consequently, it’s a small piece of the subsidy pie. Tax credits for oil and gas production are extensive, and the Republicans thundering against energy subsidies have been defending them for years. It’s interesting to talk about the concept of an across-the-board rollback of energy subsidies, and I for one buy Jeffrey Leonard’s argument that this would lead to a greener outcome than the status quo (since it would promote efficiency, among other things) but this doesn’t describe an actual policy controversy in Washington. Energy politics are all about deliberate, government-led efforts to shape the national energy mix and have been so for decades. People who are trying to kill clean energy subsidies are doing so out of a dislike of clean energy, not a dislike of subsidies. Ask Republicans about loan guarantees for nuclear power plants and suddenly they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread.