Last week, the American Energy Innovation Council tried to highlight the urgency of the need to act on a radically new energy policy:
On June 10, a group of technology-focused business leaders — including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr, and the current or former chief executives of General Electric, DuPont, Lockheed Martin, and Xerox — issued a mayday manifesto urging a massive public-private effort to accelerate research into clean-energy innovations. Without such a commitment, they warned, the United States will remain vulnerable to energy price shocks; continue to “enrich hostile regimes” that supply much of the United States’ oil; and cede to other nations dominance of “vast new markets for clean-energy technologies.” At precisely the moment these executives were scheduled to unveil their American Energy Innovation Council report, the Senate was to begin debating a resolution from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to regulate the carbon dioxide emissions linked to global climate change.
Murkowski’s proposal would have blocked the EPA from using the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions to fight global warming. It lost by four votes (47 to 53). But every single Republican (and six Democrats, namely Bayh, Rockefeller, Pryor, Landrieu, Lincoln and Ben Nelson) voted for the proposal. (How could anyone in the party of obstructionism fail to support a proposal to obstruct something? Especially something that’s urgently necessary.)
Yes, the Murkowski proposal lost, but as Ron Brownstein points out:
… the substantial support that Murkowski’s proposal attracted highlights the political obstacles looming in front of any policy that aims to seriously advance alternatives to the carbon-intensive fossil fuels that now dominate the United States’ energy mix. Her resolution collided with the Innovation Council report like a Hummer rear-ending a hybrid.
The Innovation Council has made a passionate plea for action on a new energy policy, pointing out that the stakes are no less than the future of the American economy, of American competitiveness in the global economy:
The council frames the need for a new energy direction as being as much of an economic imperative as an environmental one. It calls for a national energy strategy centered on a $16 billion annual federal investment in energy research — as much, the group pointedly notes, as the United States spends on imported oil every 16 days.
Equally important, the group urges that government catalyze the development of energy alternatives by sending “a strong market signal” through such mechanisms as mandates on utilities to produce more renewable energy or “a price or a cap” on carbon emissions. Such a cap is precisely what the Senate resolution sought to block. But the business leaders said that it is one of the policies that could “create a large, sustained market for new energy technology.”
One of the council’s key insights was to recognize that expanded energy research and limits on carbon (or other mandates to promote renewable power) are not alternative but complementary policies: One increases the supply of new energy sources; the other increases demand for them. Earlier this month, the nonpartisan Information Technology & Innovation Foundation echoed this conclusion in a report warning that the United States is already faltering in the race for new markets. With the world readying to spend $600 billion annually on clean-energy technology by 2020, the group noted, the United States is now running a trade deficit in these products and facing “declining export market shares” virtually everywhere.
Other nations are seizing these opportunities faster. In China, stiff mandates to deploy renewable sources domestically are nurturing local companies capable of capturing international markets. It’s revealing that even as venerable an American firm as California-based Applied Materials, which produces the sophisticated machinery used to manufacture solar panels, opened a research center last fall in Xian, China. “If the U.S. becomes a bigger market for us, definitely we’d have to readjust our strategy,” general manager Gang Zou recently told visiting journalists. “But today, our customer market is in Asia.”
Yes, there are six Democrats who are aligned with Republicans in obstructing any progress on a new energy policy. But, ultimately, a new energy policy is currently outside the realm of political possibility because of the united opposition of Senate Republicans. Every single Republican stands staunchly opposed to any action. Including such alleged moderates as Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Scott Brown.
The Republican Party’s position is crystal clear. Here’s what they are singing to one clear harp in divers tones:
Fuck the US economy! Fuck US competitiveness in global markets! All we care about is obstructing every single thing that Democrats propose. It doesn’t matter if a proposal makes perfect sense. It doesn’t matter if it proposes action that’s urgently necessary. It doesn’t matter if opposing the proposal will screw us for generations. We’re simply going to obstruct it. Because we see that as the only way that we can possibly get back in power. Doesn’t matter how slim the prospect of getting back in power actually is. It’s the only way we see, so that’s that. And nothing is more important than getting back in power. Because then we can go back to totally buggering up the economy all over again. The economy, and everything else in sight.