November 18, 2009
OnPoint: Muro and Jenkins talk Post Partisan Power
Yesterday, scholars from the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, and the Breakthrough Institute released a joint report proposing a post-partisan way forward on climate and energy policy that moves beyond the framework of cap and trade. The report, "Post-Partisan Power," ignited a firestorm of discussion.
To answer some of major questions about the report, E&E News OnPoint TV host Monica Trauzzi invited Breakthrough Institute Director of Climate and Energy Policy Jesse Jenkins and Brookings' Senior Fellow and Director of Policy for the Metropolitan Policy Program to join her show.
The segment can be viewed at E&E TV here, and we've excerpted some important parts below that we hope will be clarifying and useful to future discussion:
Monica Trauzzi: So Jesse, talk a bit about this partnership on the report between AEI, Brookings, and the Breakthrough Institute. Is it an example of this post-partisan approach that you're trying to get at in the report?
Jesse Jenkins: Yeah, I mean with the current politicized environment it's actually hard -- you forget how much that reasonable people can actually agree on when you sit down and talk about actual details. So we worked for really over more than a year with scholars from both Brookings, Breakthrough Institute and the American Enterprise Institute to really get down to what are the things that we can really situate solidly within a real bipartisan history of American technology leadership and investment and how do we bring those sort of ideas to bear on the energy and climate challenges that we face, whether it's the national security concerns that arise from our dependence on oil, our economic vulnerability to oil price shocks, the public health concerns that are with us every day, as well as climate change. And what we came up with is it's really a four-part strategy to drive much greater investment in energy technology and innovation through a reformed and restructured energy innovation system that we think has a greater potential to make clean energy cheap and abundant in the United States and elsewhere.
Monica Trauzzi: So Mark, it seems like the big focus here is on R&D for new technology, developing new technologies, but can a problem of this enormity be solved just through research? Don't we need to have some clear signal from the government, a cap on emissions? Don't we need some numbers, some targets?
Mark Muro: Well, absolutely. We need clear signals. Targets can work in all sorts of ways and in no way are we saying this is a comprehensive solution to -- you know, it is obviously one of the most wicked complicated problems mankind has ever faced. Our effort here is to locate some things that we think that resonate with a moment of economic crisis. There's a hunger for getting the country moving again in economic terms and we think that would matter a lot and will have to be part of any comprehensive solution. So let's not set aside comprehensive -- you know, let's not set aside the entire movement on any of these issues now. We have to start moving.
Monica Trauzzi: So Jesse, this proposal is touting this post-partisan approach. But is it forcing the government to choose winners and losers when it comes to technology?
Jesse Jenkins: No, the reality is the current energy system we have picks winners. It picks today's technologies, because we have an established infrastructure. We have a number of mature technologies. We basically use 19th-century energy technologies for both powering our vehicles and our electricity system. And the challenge is bringing us forward into the 21st century with new technologies that are locked out of the current market today because these technologies are very mature, low cost and have a built infrastructure and regulatory framework. So what this strategy is about is about driving forward a set of new technologies so that they are allowed the chance to mature and replacing our current hodgepodge of energy subsidies with a strategy that actually is disciplined towards driving cost reductions of these technologies as they scale up. What will ultimately decide between winners and losers is whether these technologies over time can become competitive without ongoing subsidy. We can't afford to create permanently subsidized industries, so the goal here is to give emerging and maturing technologies time to improve in price so that they become competitive without ongoing subsidy. And that will be the arbiter of success for which technologies prove out in the end.
Monica Trauzzi: Mark, this idea of putting more money behind new technologies is not a new one. So what's fresh here? What's the new approach that you guys are presenting?
Mark Muro: Well, for one, clearly it's true these things -- this agenda is -- I think it's the strength of this agenda that elements of it have been around a while. Now, in terms of energy innovation and investment in R&D, what is new is some new formats for doing it. We are trying to be frank about the scale of the need. You know, we're talking about a significant expansion of the R&D investment levels in this country. But we're also talking about a rethinking of the format in which R&D is conducted. It can't be conducted through solely a series of individual siloed programs run through the isolated Department of Energy laboratory system. We've got to do this research in proximity to the market, in partnerships that put together, you know, our corporate interest and their laboratories, public laboratories and university research. Place that together, get it in the context of regional innovation clusters and America's strong economic regions. That's a recipe for not only making breakthroughs, but getting them scaled up rapidly into the private economy. And this is an economic agenda.