Joe Romm’s Strategy to Lose the Clean Energy Race

Originally featured at the Huffington Post
Cross-posted at

On Monday, Joe Romm of Climate Progress publicly attacked us for publishing an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle -- called "Will America lose the clean energy race?" (a longer version was posted here at Huffington Post.). In that piece, we urged Congress to fully fund President Obama's energy education initiative and scale up direct pubic investments in low-carbon energy to accelerate our transition to a clean energy economy.

Romm asserted that our op-ed "attacks" President Obama and Democratic leaders, when in fact it calls on Congress to support Obama's RE-ENERGYSE energy education program and urges greater public investment in clean energy to compete with Asian challengers. Yet Romm never mentioned the central focus of the
op-ed -- RE-ENERGYSE and our efforts to rally support behind it, including a recent sign-on letter with over 100 organizations -- and instead criticized us for what he called "willfully misleading nonsense" about Asian countries' planned investments in clean energy.

Romm proceeded to make several factually incorrect statements about Asia's plans for clean energy investment that contradict research in publicly accessible reports and analyses, including those by the Center for American Progress (CAP), which employs Romm. The Breakthrough Institute wrote a comprehensive fact check here to correct Romm's numerous misstatements and clarify the details of public investment plans in China, South Korea and Japan.

Romm also criticized us for asserting that Congress must strengthen the Waxman-Markey bill with greater investments in clean energy to compete with Asian challengers and accelerate our transition to a clean energy economy. Why? Because Romm apparently believes the Waxman-Markey proposal -- which would invest only $10 billion per year in clean energy and energy efficiency, less than 0.1% of U.S GDP -- is sufficient to win the clean energy race. It is not.

"Waxman-Markey would complete America's transition to a clean energy economy, which started with the stimulus bill," reads the title of a prominently featured post on Romm's website, a claim he has repeated multiple times. "Waxman-Markey would generate more clean energy action than any piece of legislation passed by any country in the history of the world!" exclaimed Romm in another recent post as part of his consistent and ongoing cheer-leading for the legislation.

Romm supports his assertion by arguing that Waxman-Markey would invest $14 billion per year in clean energy. This figure is in fact faulty. Romm relies on a House Energy and Commerce Committee summary of Waxman-Markey (rather than his own independent analysis), which relied in turn on an EPA analysis in April of the early draft version of the bill. However, according to the EPA's more recent analysis of the actual bill, Waxman-Markey would invest only $8 to $10 billion per year between 2015-2020, as we explain in detail here and as we stated in our op-ed.

But regardless of whether the number is $10 or $14 billion annually, this pales in comparison to China's planned investment of $44 to $66 billion per year and is clearly insufficient to "complete America's transition to a clean energy economy." A group of 34 Nobel Laureates recently submitted a letter to President Obama urging $15 billion per year in Waxman-Markey for R&D alone, and the Brookings Institution calls for $20-30 billion per year in R&D. The Breakthrough Institute strongly advocates a minimum investment of $30 to $50 billion per year in low-carbon energy research, development, demonstration and deployment, of which $15 billion should be for clean energy R&D, as recommended by President Obama and the nation's top scientists.

China, South Korea and Japan are all redoubling (re-tripling or re-quadrupling may be more accurate) their efforts to spur domestic clean energy industries, building on their stimulus investments by launching major, sustained clean energy investment programs. In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the United States allocated over $60 billion to be spent over two years building American clean energy industries -- an excellent start. Yet the Waxman-Markey bill would slash that level of commitment by two-thirds. Romm is apparently content with letting U.S. investments in clean energy technologies and industries lapse. The Breakthrough Institute is not.

Ironically, in the face of massive direct public investments in countries like China, South Korea and Japan, both the Breakthrough Institute and the real policy analysts at the Center for American Progress believe the U.S. is falling behind in the clean energy race. A recent CAP brief noted that "competitors dominate green industries while America is left behind." CAP's Julian Wong and Andrew Light were some of the first analysts to highlight China's reported plan to invest $440 to $660 billion in clean energy over ten years. And in a report titled "We Must Seize the Energy Opportunity or Slip Further Behind," CAP analyst Ben Furnas argued that "when it comes to preparing our country to compete in the new energy economy ... we lag behind most of our competitors in the rest of the world."

The Breakthrough Institute believes the gathering clean energy race demands a vigorous and sustained commitment to clean energy technology and industries and has called on Congress to strengthen U.S. climate legislation, boosting clean energy investments from its current level of $10 billion per year to at least $30-$50 billion per year. In contrast, Romm ardently supports weaker legislation that would invest just $10 billion per year in clean energy and energy efficiency, less than one quarter of China's planned investments. That may be acceptable to Joe Romm -- but it is no way to win the clean energy race.