What the Election of 2010 Means for Green: Not Much.


As a self-proclaimed East Coast liberal intellectual who drinks Starbucks Grande Nonfat Decaf Lattes on a regular basis, I woke up this morning after the Mid-term elections of 2010 with a heavy heart.  I thought to myself, as I took public transportation to my office from my energy efficient townhouse in Center City Philadelphia, what will happen to environmental policy in this country? Now that the Republicans have the majority of the House, and spooked the pants off my latte-drinking brethren on the left, has the green revolution been quashed before it even really got started? Surely cap-and-trade is off the table, and incentives for renewable energy and green building will be scrapped or allowed to sunset without renewal under the guise of “balancing the budget.”

Reading the headlines did nothing to cheer me up. Politico calculated the cap-and-trade losses:

Nearly 30 (and counting) who cast ‘aye’ votes for Waxman-Markey were swept away on Tuesday’s anti-incumbent wave.

As I moped through my morning coffee, considering the appeal of starting a hedge fund or opening a high-end craft store (my secret dream), it slowly dawned on me that the mid-term elections had essentially changed nothing.  Even with majorities in the Senate, the House and the White House, cap-and-trade went nowhere.

Incentives are valuable for renewable energy projects and green buildings, but projects that depend entirely on incentives to pencil out are not sustainable in the long run.  The incentives would have to end eventually, and this way Democrats will not be forced to make the hard decision about when and how to do it.  They will not have to spend political capital and material resources on propping up or renewing stimulus incentives, but can instead devote their energy towards building the political climate which will embrace green.

Not that this helped my mood, but the world is still warming and there are still terrorists in the Middle East.   The green revolution may have suffered a setback in yesterday’s election, but the two essential underpinnings for the green revolution and moving to renewable energy have not changed.

Finally, perhaps this is a wake up call to recognize how hard the task of creating a green America really is.  The winds of politics are very changeable, and the American people have priorities other than the environment.  If Americans are not electing politicians who prioritize the environment, then the revolution has not come yet.  Moreover, if the success of the green revolution depends entirely on who is in power politically, it is not a revolution at all.  It is a pork project.  To have a revolution, the hearts and minds of the people (to borrow a phrase) have to be changed, one person at a time.  That process is slow, and subject to lots of setbacks.  Just ask Jimmy Carter.



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11 comments on “What the Election of 2010 Means for Green: Not Much.

AJ

Is this the commentary on this website? Because if so, count me out.

The point of cap-and-trade is not to “incentivize” renewable energies for the sake of it. The purpose is to actually put a price on the harmful carbon emitted, let the market decide what sources of energy are most efficient for the economy, and increase investment in the long-term power generation and infrastructure of the United States. This often leads to a more efficient use of resources towards renewable energy.

I do not support long-term government subsidies for renewable energy technologies – there are too many grants, tax breaks, and subsidies on science fair projects for Phds to work on things that can never be commercialized (Google solar roads). I also do not support huge breaks for coal while needlessly punishing oil companies like Waxman-Markey did. If the Democrats didn’t pork that bill and fill it with exceptions for the dirtiest polluters in West Virginia and the rest of Appalachia.

The point of emissions trading is not some government subsidy that lasts forever – it’s to completely end market failure. That market failure is pollution without a price – putting a negative externality on everyone in society without paying for it. We need a cap now and the ability to trade within that cap to make it as efficient as possible. Failing that, Obama needs to show the fortitude and courage to enact punishments through the EPA to force Congress to enact a proper piece of legislation, but he has completely failed to do so.

Signed,

A Free Market Capitalist (not an East Coast Liberal)

Bill744

Anything that would place a price on carbon dioxide emissions would address the externality. Carbon tax or cap and trade might work.

What is ironic is that emissions trading, the mother of cap and trade ideas, was first supported by Republicans in 1977 (H.R. 6161, Clean Air Act amendments) as a way to let the market decide the most efficient way to reduce emissions.

Michael Ioffe

Properties of water actually cooling the atmosphere, because of huge energy needed for evaporation and transportation of that energy to clouds level, where this energy close to space and go to space more easy.

In atmosphere we have not only water vapor but also water droplets in form of fog, clouds and particles, which mostly responsible for visibility. Wind help evaporate these droplets and cool the air.

Any windmills will reduce speed of wind and it will help raises of temperature.

Windmills energy is expensive. Windmills disaster not only for economy, but also and for environment.

Clouds are reflecting to space most of direct sun radiation. These properties of water also help cool the atmosphere.

The best tools to evaporate water on continents are trees.

In famous Reagan slogan “trees are more pollutant than automobiles” we have part of truth.

Forest reflects only 3-5% of direct sun radiation.

Why in this case we need forests?

It is only because of evaporation, which cool the atmosphere and mild climate everywhere.

Efficiency of photosynthesis and solar cell approximately the same around 1%. Other part of sun energy heated the air. If in case for trees this energy evaporates water and cools the air in case of solar panel it heats the air and increase possibilities of climate change.

Trees collect sun energy during hundred years without any batteries.

In huge power plants we are losing 80% of energy-heat energy in vain.

Building small power plants all across USA we could use wood energy and if we will use as electricity as heat wood will bring more useful energy than coal and oil right now.

Of course we could use mix of wood, coal, natural gas and oil product in environmentally save proportion, especially if we will solve all gases from oven in water to watering trees.

It will be together with ash the best nutrition to grow forests. It will be close to zero emission of GHG by power plants.

Real efficiency of movement 1 person (weight 200 Lb.) in car (weight 4000 Lb.) is less than 1%.

Changing our transportation systems, our electricity production, raising the forests as source of energy could provide 100% of employment, make our country energy independent, and fight climate change with help of USA, Canada, and Mexico.

North America is located between Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and influent climate from France to Japan.

In book Xlibris.com “Economy and climate change or KGB agent,” January 2010 by Michael Ioffe you could read more.

Mark

But we are electing officials who advocate protecting the environment. Look at the results from California and Massachusetts.

The message ever since the failure of Copenhagen and then the failure of Congress to pass energy legislation, is that we need to work at the state and local level for clean air and water, to reduce our carbon footprint and to encourage clean energy and energy efficiency.

Michael Ioffe

Mark, if you answer to my post, sorry I need to tell that you do not read carefully my point.

Properties of water, despite water vapor is GHG “ACTUALLY COOL THE AIR”

Al Gore and scientists, who advice to him are wrong.

They provide our government and government of all nations in the world with wrong tool to fight climate change.

Author of this article also wrong.

If you could something do to inform as Democrats, as Republican, as our President and Government, please help me to bring attention to these huge mistakes in understanding reason for climate change.

We could create 100% of employment, be energy independent and fight climate change with only USA, Canada and Mexico.

Michael Ioffe

The environmental, climate change/green energy movement took a big hit on Tuesday for sure. I appreciate the post about the cement used on the BP Oil Rig and the need for good policy. However, reality is that when it comes to the almighty $dollar$ adherence to good policy seems to be an after thought – even when worker safety is involved. JMHO… What’s really frustrating is that the Green Tech sector of the economy is fast growing with hardly any investment from the government. What would happen if there was investment by the government much like there was to create the much beloved military industrial complex. Imagine that – the economic vitality of America and the environment could be restore. Clearly, a very bad idea… DOH!

MP Divakar

@Shari: the investments in the clean tech businesses have been producing solutions that are fast approaching the growth phase. There are cost challenges that need innovative financial ‘instruments’ to enable consumer adoption. Greening one’s home can largely be modeled like mortgages though an average consumer would like it to be similar to a car loan! So the challenge for the clean tech industry would be to set a direction for achieving costs that make consumers adopt the solutions using the latter financial model than the former. Only then the products in the clean tech industry will reach maturity phase.

I do agree the government subsidies are shoring up a majority of solar business (Solyndra is a good example) and that is in danger of being eliminated or pared back with the Republican win. But if Republicans are pro business as they claim to be, it is foolish to decelerate an fledgling industry that is not just in the west coast but countrywide in the US. More over, the global clean tech business is showing no signs of any imminent threat from governments.

I agree with your overall outlook: not much has changed in clean tech business from the latest US elections.

Dr. MP Divakar

Michael Ioffe

Dear MP Divakar, solar cells are disaster not only for economy, but also for environment.

The best tools to evaporate water on continents are trees.

In famous Reagan slogan “trees are more pollutant than automobiles” we have part of truth.

Forest reflects only 3-5% of direct sun radiation.

Why in this case we need forests?

It is only because of evaporation, which cool the atmosphere and mild climate everywhere.

Efficiency of photosynthesis and solar cell approximately the same around 1%. Other part of sun energy heated the air. If in case for trees this energy evaporates water and cools the air in case of solar panel it heats the air and increase possibilities of climate change.

Trees collect sun energy during hundred years without any batteries.

storyloops

I hear you Shari and all other sensible posters. Along with your observations I must also add burnout. Capital B. That is truly how I feel right now. I’m supposed to be working on figuring out how to “get done” a multi-megawatt project in this fair city (Philadelphia as well), but I’d rather distract myself with this. I too believe in most aspects of a free-market in theory, but the problem is it isn’t free and hasn’t been so in this country for a while. The commercial=investment banks don’t understand free. And neither did AIG, GM, or Chrysler. All done with the people’s money only to have them snicker at us commoners for trying to get financed for trivial things such as renewable energy which will benefit generations untold as well as investors. And I’ve kind of had it with this ‘up from the bootstraps’, macho-American nonsense, that a subsidy is evil. Even with the dramatic fall in $/watt solar prices, cleaner and long-term energy is a good thing for rebuilding this society. Period. People of all skill levels will work. We will live better and with a lighter footprint. The total of what renewable energy gets in subsidies pales greatly compared to that of coal, oil, and gas. Please, just look these things up – cross reference for crying out loud. Again, there is no free market capitalism! Repeat that 10 times. There seems to be no working US government either. Repeat that 10 times. Please wake up to that unless you want to continue to dream about some ideal taught in school that doesn’t really exist out here. Subsidies are necessary to aid growth in this entirely lopsided and un-level playing field. What are the solutions? I really don’t know either. Like I said, I’m getting burned out. My group, instead of really designing a comprehensive implementation, must spend 99.9% of our time trying to find a way to make the banks happy. That’s what this is about. That’s probably what needs to change first. Back to work.

Helios

The interesting thing about the Republicans is the myth that they are “pro business” and “the market should decide”, “deregulation”, “small government” simple easy to digest slogans but not true, just something to mislead the simple minded.

If you are pro-family and a parent do you set rules like going to bed, no drugs, and doing homework? Of course. “Letting the market decide” is like telling your kids to do what they want on all matters. Here is a simple truth that is bi-partisan; the role of the government is to protect its citizens. Just how is the debate. One other clear truth: corporations have to make a short term profit, and they are amoral. Never ask a shark why it eats fish, it is just that way, and corporations are designed to do one thing, make profit. Nothing wrong with amoral corporations either, just like a shark, they do what they are designed to do.

I am very much pro business, but I do not get the role of government and corporations mixed up, and neither do the Europeans. The rules for corporations are set by the government with a long term perspective on the well being of the citizens, once this is all done, the corporations all go off and make a profit all operating under the same rules, it works great. Treating workers is a good thing since it is profitable.

In Europe they decided that the climate is in danger, that nuclear waste is a bad thing, and oil and all its geopolitical implications is unsustainable. So the rules and taxes are set to allow the transition away from these harmful forms of energy in a decade or two. Sweden set a goal to be off oil in 15 years, 5 years ago. Germany to get off nuclear, and they have spawned the largest industry growth in the last 10 years world-wide, so much that they are building factories in the USA.

Pro-business in the last administration was generally defined as pro-oil and pro-military industrial complex, just follow the money (banks and medicine did well too). Starting an unprovoked war on a sovereign nation cost us taxpayers $3 trillion, not including the horrific human toll. Where were all the budget minded people during this episode of our history?

So time to really ask what the real agenda is for the Republicans, it is not to create a sustainable environment for the citizens of the USA it seems. Deregulation sounds really great until your teenager asks for the keys to your car with beer breath. What is our oil doing under their soil anyhow?

Finally I to am for small government and lower defense spending (did anyone notice the cold war is over?), let us start by a large section of the military, and then let the DOE do its job and provide incentives to the emerging business that is needed for us to live a little longer on this planet.

I ask that you compare your standard of living and future prospects to most developed nations in Europe and Asia, what are we thinking?

Lew Perelman

Lighten up. First, as Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger wrote last year:

“As we confront the basic realities of energy, global development, and carbon, it will become ever clearer that the shift we must make does not require a transformation of our hearts, minds, and lifestyles, but rather of the underlying technologies that power our civilization.” This in fact reflects what they call the “emerging consensus” expressed by their organization, the Breakthrough Institute, ITIF, the Copenhagen Consensus Center, and leading authorities at Caltech, MIT, NYU, and other centers. The necessary goal, as Nordhaus and Shellenberger put is concisely is to “make clean technology cheap” — which, for the most part, it currently is not. This consensus recognizes the reality that the kind of technology needed to realize climate, environmental, security, and economic development goals mostly either does not yet exist or is too costly for large-scale adoption.

Cap and trade was a grievously bad idea, which failed to the extent it was tried, and which thankfully died a year ago in Copenhagen, long before the recent US election.

As for the coming situation in Washington, the prospects are not entirely so gloomy.

The division of the government offers at least the potential for some constructive negotiation and compromise. After the 1994 election, and despite overt hostilities, Bill Clinton was able to work effectively with congressional Republicans to accomplish substantive results in welfare reform, trade, and other areas that set the stage for a strong economic recovery and balanced budgets. We shall see whether Barack Obama can be similarly adroit.

One of the stated aims of the Republican leadership in the next Congress is to roll back federal spending to the 2008 level. Regarding so-called “clean” technology, consider that the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy division of the Dept. of Energy spent about $1.7 billion in FY 2008.

That’s not nothing, nor is it drastically less than more recent federal appropriations for energy innovation.

The problem, as the proponents of the emerging consensus for a technology-centered policy see it, is that the US should be investing at least $30 billion/year over a prolonged period to achieve the kind of technology innovations that are needed. The Copenhagen Consensus Center recently argued that $100 billion/year should be invested globally in technology innovation to address climate and other needs — an economically appropriate share for the US would be again about $25-30 billion.

The EERE/DOE budget is only part of the overall federal investment in relevant technology innovation.

A particularly important player is the Defense Dept. DoD in fact has acute, strategic and tactical energy and resource needs in which it is investing considerable attention and resources. “Energy independence” may be a feel-good slogan for many but for the military it is critical. The US Air Force, for instance, is the biggest consumer of fuel in the government, and indeed one of the biggest in the country. Military bases currently are mostly dependent on the electric grid to supply their power — a worrisome vulnerability for both base security and mission performance. Tactically, troops in the field are perilously dependent on a long logistics “tail” to supply needed fuel and water — supply convoys are a major target for enemies.

DoD will continue to invest in coming up with technical fixes for these problems, not so much because they are “clean” but because they are crucial to the military mission. And it is most likely that congressional Republicans will support those efforts.

More broadly, energy and technology policies are driven more by differences of regional, social, and economic interests than of partisan ones. Representatives from coal and other energy-producing states, for instance, will continue to oppose economically subversive cap-and-trade and similarly prohbitive “climate protection” policies regardless of party affiliation.

Along that line, and unfortunately, the next Congress likely will continue to provide bipartisan support for wasteful biofuel subsidies — because of the peculiar leverage the American system of government gives to rural/agricultural states in the structure of Congress and in presidential politics.

In any case, the notion that Republicans will not be supportive of “clean” energy and other technology innovation is simplistic and misleading.

In line to become chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee is Rep. Fred Upton (Michigan). Criticized by some conservatives as too moderate, Upton received a 39% rating from the League of Conservation Voters.

In regard to climate legislation, writing in Roll Call last year Upton stated five necessary objectives: “1) provide a tangible environmental benefit to the American people; 2) advance technology and provide the opportunity for export; 3) protect American jobs; 4) strengthen U.S. energy security; and 5) require global participation.”

Given that the failure of the Copenhagen conference proved to those not previously convinced that there isn’t going to be any grand global compact on climate regulation for the foreseeable future, the focus should be and is likely to be on technology innovation, consistent with the emerging consensus view.

In that regard Upton, like many and maybe most members of Congress favors a do-it-all approach. He and others will support expanded development of nuclear power — which may be welcomed by those who view nuclear as “clean.” There also will be continued, perhaps expanded, support for “clean” coal and other fossil fuel technology. And energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions as well. While Upton, in particular, has opposed oil drilling in Lake Michigan he favors putting wind turbines there. And like Michiganians of both parties, he is tantalized at the prospect of Michigan being a leading producer of batteries for electric/hybrid vehicles.

Note that the more reactionary Rep. Joe Barton (Texas) is competing for the committee chairmanship. But that would require a waiver of Republican rules which limit the terms of members serving as ranking member or chairman to six years. Given that Nancy Pelosi as Speaker bypassed seniority to install Henry Waxman over John Dingell as Energy/Commerce chairman during her reign, the possibility of Barton’s appointment cannot be ruled out at this point.

Overall, given the federal budget mess, the level of federal investment in “clean” technology is likely to be somewhat diminished, with the focal points tweaked some, but not drastically different.

William Bonvillian of MIT is among the several experts who have argued that not only is the scale of federal investment in energy innovation inadequate, but the organization structure for managing those investments is ill-conceived and woefully inefficient. It’s possible that both parties in Washington will see it in their interest to collaborate on restructuring the federal technology programs to achieve more bang for the taxpayers’ bucks.

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