This post was co-authored by Matthew Stepp, Clean Energy Policy Analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), and Teryn Norris, President of Americans for Energy Leadership

In the aftermath of the debt ceiling crisis and as the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction seeks a second budget deal, many public interest groups are working hard to ensure that even while Congress cuts wasteful spending, it preserves vital public programs and expands smart investments in the nation’s future.  In the energy and climate policy community, a broad range of groups are fighting to defend clean technology investment programs – such as the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) – that have taken years to establish and offer a glimmer of hope amidst a largely bleak political and policy landscape.

Other organizations are taking a different approach.  This week, two progressive groups – the environmental Friends of the Earth and consumer advocacy group Public Citizen – drew attention when they joined the libertarian Heartland Institute and deficit-hawk Taxpayers for Common Sense in releasing a spending cut plan.  In a report called “Green Scissors 2011,” the groups call for $380 billion in spending they identify as “wasteful government subsidies” and “environmentally damaging.”

These types of collaborations are rare, and the report marked a unique opportunity for traditionally opposed organizations to take a leadership role and break the gridlock on budget, energy, climate, and environmental policy.  Unfortunately, the report not only fails to realize this opportunity, but makes fundamentally misguided choices that would be counterproductive to reducing the budget deficit and could potentially exacerbate America’s climate and energy challenges.

At the heart of “Green Scissors” is a collection of $380 billion in “wasteful [federal] government subsidies that are damaging to the environment and harming taxpayers,” which the groups believe should be targeted for cuts or elimination.  The proposed cuts include:

  • Eliminating $61.275 billion in conventional fossil fuel subsidies and tax incentives.
  • Eliminating $49.615 billion in nuclear energy programs for R&D, loan guarantees, environmental cleanup, and nuclear waste liability funds.
  • Eliminating $95.817 billion invested in renewable energy loan guarantees, corn ethanol subsidies, R&D, the FutureGen carbon capture demonstration project, and fuel technologies development among others.  The report also targets the elimination of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E).
  • Eliminating $56.655 billion in agriculture subsidies.
  • Cutting over $106 billion in selected transportation programs and projects including transfer payments to the Highway Trust Fund.
  • Eliminating $15.290 billion in selected land and water subsidies and programs.

At first glance, the proposal correctly identifies some unproductive spending that should indeed be eliminated. For example, corn ethanol subsidies do little more than prop up an uncompetitive alternative fuel that offers little to no carbon emission reductions (its initial intended goal) and doesn’t represent a future, robust economic growth opportunity.  In this way, the proposal appears to open a more nuanced budget debate that the United States desperately needs.  Instead of across the board slash-and-burn budget politics, policymakers should be examining the entire federal budget with a fine-tooth comb and differentiate between vital public investments – such as programs aimed at solving our key economic, energy, climate, and environmental challenges – from government spending on unproductive programs.  Like Time Magazine’s Michael Grunwald lamented, “Here’s a crazy thought: Maybe we should spend more on good things and less on dumb things.”

But this potential is never fully realized, and the report ends up making several factually incorrect statements, misguided recommendations, and errors of omission.  These recommendations are often supported by ideologically-driven economic myths and backed by shallow analysis and evaluative criteria. In particular, the report makes three major errors:


It’s the Chinese, Stupid

Published by National Journal’s Energy & Environment Expert Blog

It’s time to take off the kids’ gloves in the energy debate.

For the last five years, clean-tech advocates have extolled the potential benefits of a clean energy economy. You know the drill: millions of new jobs; freedom from oil; better technologies and cleaner air.

Where have we gotten in terms of policy outcomes? Besides ARRA’s clean energy investments and higher fuel mileage standards, practically nowhere, and the clean energy industry is poised for a crash, as my colleagues argued on this forum.

Meanwhile, on the political front, we are witnessing one of the harshest backlashes against the role of government and public investment in U.S. history. The Tea Party has successfully hijacked the national agenda to focus on deficit reduction at all costs, even with unemployment above 9%. Science and technology budgets are under attack across the board, with the recent House Appropriations bill slashing budgets for energy innovation, NIST, NASA, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which was cut by over 55 percent. What will emerge from the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction – or what the outcome will be if it fails to reach a deal – is highly uncertain, but it could result in even more draconian cuts to energy and technology budgets.

The bottom line: clean energy and innovation advocates across the board are losing. Badly. No matter how grand the benefits of a sensible economic policy proposal might be – whether in clean energy or other sectors – extolling these benefits is hardly a winning approach in today’s political environment.

Hence the need to take off the kids’ gloves and develop a new strategy.


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America Needs a New Vision

Published by The Huffington Post
By Teryn Norris
August 5th, 2011

Just three short years after Barack Obama’s campaign, “No We Can’t” is the new “Yes We Can,” and the vision of hope and unity that re-inspired a generation has been shattered.

In the aftermath of Washington’s fabricated debt-ceiling crisis, and amidst a looming double-dip economic recession, prospects for the United States look grim. Public disapproval of Congress has soared to the highest level on record, and a deepening sense of disillusionment has swept the country.

When future historians look back, they may conclude that 2011 was the beginning of a lost decade – when the U.S. descended into a decade or more of political dysfunction and economic malaise, and the American people concluded that the nation’s problems are largely insurmountable.

But it doesn’t have to end this way.

Instead, those future historians might conclude that 2011 and 2012 were watershed years that ignited a Great Renewal — when a generation of Americans realized how much is at stake if we fail to unite behind an optimistic vision for national revitalization, make essential investments in our future, and fight back against those who would tear the country down. For what is at stake today is nothing less than the foundation of American leadership and the international order.

The 20th century was the American century in large part due to our economic dynamism and innovation, which depended on unrivaled public-private partnerships to invest in the engines of progress: science, technology, infrastructure, and education. This dynamism positioned the United States to underwrite the most peaceful and prosperous global period in modern history.

These investments spanned across Democratic and Republican administrations alike. As one president declared in a national address, “I’ve urged Congress to devote more money to research… It is an indispensable investment in America’s future… Some say that we can’t afford it, that we’re too strapped for cash. Well, leadership means making hard choices, even in an election year.”

Jimmy Carter? No, that was Ronald Reagan.

He was no exception. President George Washington supported the development of interchangeable parts, which revolutionized U.S. manufacturing, as the Breakthrough Institute has documented. Lincoln delivered railroads and land grant universities, FDR oversaw the Manhattan Project, Eisenhower developed interstate highways and nuclear power, Kennedy advanced microchips and the Apollo Project, Nixon launched the quest to cure cancer, and both Clinton and George W. Bush helped triple the budget of the National Institutes of Health.