Friday, July 17, 2009

Energetic Debate: Senate Grapples with Clean Energy and Jobs

The Wall Street Journal
Environmental Capital Blog
July 16, 2009

Well, the Senate is still trying to sort out whether the clean-energy push is a good thing or a bad thing for job creation.

The basic thrust goes like this: Venture capitalists, such as John Doerr, and clean-tech corporate types, such as General Electric’s John Krenicki, warned that countries such as China are stealing a lead in the clean-energy race thanks to lagging U.S. policies, which will leave the U.S. at a disadvantage in the next big industry. Sen. Barbara Boxer agreed.

Mr. Doerr noted that only one of the top five wind-turbine companies in the U.S. is actually American (it’s GE). “That’s simply not acceptable,” he said.

So much talk about wind turbines exhausted the patience of Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, who again called for a nuclear solution to America’s energy woes. “Is nuclear power renewable energy?” he asked Mr. Doerr.

“Well, it’s low-carbon energy,” the veteran venture capitalist replied. But nuclear power’s long lead times work against it, he added: “If we wait a decade, we’re out of the race.” Later, he said, referring to America’s place in the clean-energy race, “We barely got a dog in the fight, we’re barely in the game right now.”

Lingering behind all the exchanges was the fundamental tension: How can China be poised for clean-energy leadership when the country planning greenhouse-gas limits is the U.S.?

Julian Wong of the Center for American Progress cut to the chase: “We need to separate the rhetoric of the international climate process from what is actually happening on the ground.” And China, he stressed, is moving rapidly with both stimulus money and ambitious renewable-energy targets (not to mention a stiff dose of protectionism.)

Which would seem to lend credence to the idea that cleaning up the energy system is more important than setting goals for eventually reducing carbon emissions. For China, at least.

That might explain why 34 Nobel Prize winners today sent President Obama a letter asking him to live up to his campaign pledge to spend $15 billion promoting clean energy, a promise that has been gutted by the horse-trading in the Congressional fight over the climate bill.

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