13 October 2010

Post-Partisan Power

The American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution and the Breakthrough Institute (where I am a senior fellow) have jointly issued a new, bi-partisan report on energy policy.

Here is how the Breakthrough Institute opens their blog post on the report which is also featured in today's NY Times and E&E News:
After decades-long "climate wars" and amidst today's hyper-partisan political environment, it is easy to forget how much reasonable liberals and conservatives can actually agree on. Today, scholars from divergent points on the political compass released a new white paper charting a practical, bipartisan path forward on clean energy innovation and modernization.

In "Post-Partisan Power," the American Enterprise Institute, Brookings Institution, and Breakthrough Institute describe a limited and direct energy innovation strategy that can deliver clean, cheap energy, economic productivity, and national prosperity.

As New York Times columnist David Leonhardt writes in the paper's October 13th print edition, this new post-partisan proposal, and the growing energy innovation consensus surrounding it, "reflect[s] the political reality that raising the cost of dirty energy is unpopular, especially when the economy is so weak. Finding the money to make clean energy cheaper, even when government budgets are tight, will probably be an easier sell."

While cap and trade legislation became embattled by partisan wars over climate science and compromised to the point of inefficacy, Leonhardt reminds readers that there is a successor strategy waiting, if one only turns to the long, bipartisan history of American technological leadership.

"[H]istory shows that government-directed research can work," Leohardt writes.
"The Defense Department created the Internet, as part of a project to build a communications system safe from nuclear attack. The military helped make possible radar, microchips and modern aviation, too. The National Institutes of Health spawned the biotechnology industry. All those investments have turned into engines of job creation, even without any new tax on the technologies they replaced. "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 ["Post-Partisan Power"] proposal with A.E.I. and Brookings. "When you look at the history of technological innovation, you find that state investment is everywhere."
Click here to download the full report.

1 comments:

Jonathan Gilligan said...

Do see Michael Levi's criticism of Leonhardt:

"Here’s the thing: ... Modern aviation is great for travelers everywhere. Biotechnology improves the health of those who exploit its fruits. Government support hasn’t made airplanes cheaper than cars [or] high-end drugs less expensive than Tylenol.... What it’s done is help make them affordable. And once government investment in innovation makes initial commercial adoption feasible, market forces (i.e. individual demand) take these technologies the rest of the way.

"But clean energy? Not so much. I get zero benefit by choosing to buy energy produced by a wind farm. (It actually costs me more.) My utility doesn’t get any either, unless its regulator lets it pass on the cost, which it won’t absent government policy. There are big social benefits to clean energy, most prominently through reductions in both greenhouse gas and particulate emissions. But neither individuals nor companies have any significant reason to shift to clean energy, even if innovation closes the cost gap considerably. ... For the foreseeable future, government will still need to cover the remaining gap, either through subsidies for clean energy or by making dirty energy more expensive."

In other words, without raising the cost of dirty energy (in order to bring market forces into the picture), simply throwing money at R&D won't be effective.

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