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Roland Hwang’s Blog

U.S. Must Remain Committed to Clean Energy

Roland Hwang

Posted October 14, 2011 in Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming, U.S. Law and Policy

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Today, the House Oversight Committee will hold its third hearing on Solyndra. Since the Solyndra’s bankruptcy, GOP lawmakers have been on the offensive against clean energy manufacturing loans. Last month, Republicans in the House of Representatives effectively threatened to shut down the federal government if Democrats didn't agree to cut $5 billion in loans from the Advanced Vehicle Technology Manufacturing (AVTM) program. But the U.S. needs to keep moving forward with creating a clean energy economy; jobs and or energy security depend on it.

The AVTM loan guarantees were originally signed into law in 2008 by then-president Bush, and are currently helping to fund the construction of next-generation vehicle facilities for the likes of Ford, Nissan, Tesla and Fisker, that will save or create an estimated 40,000 jobs. The remaining $15.9 billion in the program is projected to net an additional 60,000 jobs, but if Republicans like Florida representative Cliff Stearns had their way, that money would be scrapped in its entirety. “The government should not be picking winners and losers—that’s what they’re doing with Nissan, Tesla and Fisker,” said Stearns in an interview recently.

The “winners and losers” charge has been repeated time and time again by opponents of green energy investment, with one Heritage Foundation blogger charging recently that only “economically uncompetitive” vehicle technologies need the help of the government.

But the big winners and losers in what is now a global race to cut oil consumption, won't just be car companies. Many of the world's largest auto markets are putting regulations in place to ensure that the average fuel economy of the vehicles sold in their countries rises substantially in the coming decades, and whether the next generation of efficient vehicles is built in the United States, China, Germany, Japan or elsewhere, it will get built somewhere.

The Nissan LEAF electric sedan, for example, didn't come into existence because of the AVTM program, but the 1.3-million-square-foot factory in Smyrna, Tennessee—where the batteries for as many as 200,000 electric vehicles will be built each year—likely did. Nissan has said that the $1.4 billion in loan money it received from Washington factored heavily in its decision to build battery packs for the LEAF in the United States.

Then there are emergent companies like Tesla and Fisker, who will use the loans to develop and build their technologies in sufficient volumes to make them price-competitive in the larger vehicle market. Tesla used its AVTM loan money to develop the Model S sedan, creating about 1,000 jobs in the process. When that car hits the market next year, the startup projects it will add another 1,000 employees.

The United States isn't the only country working to ensure that it's a hub for the electric vehicle industry. Whether it is subsidies to consumers or loans to companies working on electric cars, governments around the world are competing to become players in the plug-in vehicle market. Germany recently announced that it will distribute 500 million euros (about $705 million) for vehicle electrification by the end of next year. China, in its bid to become both the world's largest EV market and producer, has flooded its auto industry with $15 billion in grants and subsidies for hybrid and electric vehicles.

Though the recent trend in Washington has been to call for cuts to clean energy programs, in reality, it’s the dirty fuel industry that has historically received the enormous subsidies. The oil industry receives an estimated $4 billion per year in tax breaks from the federal government—a number far greater than the $1.5 billion in credit subsidies the House hoped to cut from the AVTM program. In fact, as my colleague Brian Siu points out, the Office of Management and Budget estimates that repealing six oil and gas tax expenditures would save roughly $43 billion over ten years.

Though cuts to the AVTM program were averted at the last minute, I  wouldn’t be surprised to see more calls by Republicans to roll back government investment in fuel-efficient technologies as the budget fights leading into 2012 elections continue. The United States needs to remain firm in its commitment to these technologies, or it risks being a loser in the race to end oil dependency.

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Comments

Steven Earl SalmonyOct 14 2011 01:53 PM

USA needs to make a real commitment to clean energy AND to placing caps on outrageous per capita overconsumption, excessive individual hoarding, rampant large-scale overproduction and unbridled overpopulation by the human species.

Please consider that during my lifetime, when human numbers exploded from less than 3 billion to more than 7 billion worldwide, many experts may not have known enough about what they were talking about when they spoke of human population dynamics and all causes of the human overpopulation of Earth. Their research appears not to be scientific. What I have been trying to communicate regarding the human population does not issue from ideological or totalitarian thinking, or from group-think consensus for that matter. It is not derived from what is politically convenient, economically expedient, socially agreeable, religiously tolerable and culturally prescribed. I have wanted to openly discuss the best available science. That is all. It appears the generally accepted thinking of a surprisingly large number of so-called experts in the field of population dynamics appears to have an unscientific foundation. Their preternatural thought and theorizing about the population dynamics of the human species appears to be both incomplete and mistaken. Most disquieting of all, a widely shared and consensually validated theory about a demographic transition four decades from now is directly contradicted by unchallenged scientific research. As a consequence, and it is a pernicious consequence, woefully inadequate thinking and fundamentally flawed theorizing has been broadcast during my life cycle and continues to be broadcast everywhere by the mainstream media as if it is not only science but the best available scientific evidence. The implications of this unfortunate behavior, inasmuch as it appears to be based upon a colossal misperception of what could somehow be real regarding the human population, appear profound. This failure of nerve has served to slow momentum needed for a confrontation with a formidable global predicament that appears to become more difficult to overcome year by year.

In their elective mutism regarding an astonishing error, are first class professional researchers with expertise in population dynamics behaving badly by allowing the “ninety-nine percenters” to be misguided and led down a primrose path by the “one percenters”? The power of silence on the part of knowledgeable human beings with feet of clay is dangerous because research is being denied that appears to shed light upon a dark, non-recursive biological problem, the understanding of which appears vital to future human well being and environmental health. Too many experts appear to be ignoring science regarding the human population and instead consciously through their silence consenting to the leviathan scale and unbridled expansion of global overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities that are being adamantly advocated and relentlessly pursued by greedmongering masters of the universe, the tiny minority among us who are primarily responsible for ravaging the Earth, ruining its environs and reducing its fitness for habitation by the children. If this assessment of human behavior is indeed a fair representation of what is happening on our watch, then the desire to preserve the status quo, mainly the selfish interests of ‘the powers that be’, could be at least one basis for so much intellectually dishonest and morally bereft behavior. Could it be that the outrageous per capita overconsumption, large-scale corporate overproduction and unrestricted overpopulation activities of the human species worldwide cannot continue much longer on a planet with the size, composition and ecology of a finite and frangible planet like Earth?

Raime FaleroOct 15 2011 12:29 PM

This is an excellent and concise article! Would you mind sourcing some of the numbers for the subsidies?

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