The Progress Report
by Faiz Shakir, Benjamin Armbruster, George Zornick, Zaid Jilani, Alex Seitz-Wald, Brad Johnson, and Tanya Somanader
High-level industry leaders, policy experts, investors, and public officials gathered in Nevada yesterday for the third annual day-long clean energy summit hosted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The United States — and the world — is sagging under a global recession caused by deregulated financial markets and ideological opposition to jobs investment programs. Our dependence on fossil fuels keeps bringing new catastrophic shocks to the system, from coal mine and oil rig explosions to unprecedented heat waves and floods. Conservative demonization of climate policy, fueled by millions of dollars from the coal and oil industry, has blocked President Obama’s promise of a clean energy economy that rewards work instead of pollution. With those challenges in mind, the leaders at the “National Clean Energy Summit 3.0: Investing in American Jobs” attempted to chart America’s clean energy future. Previous clean energy summits have developed and amplified clean energy policies that became law or were under serious congressional consideration, including the long term extension of tax credits for wind and solar power and revitalization of our transmission system. “This year’s summit reinforces the urgency of adopting a national clean energy strategy that boosts private investments for new technologies and jobs,” said John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
THE PROMISE: Podesta said “untapped potential in the sustainable energy market could revive the stalled economy and end the recession.” The challenge, he said, is getting the government to restore confidence among investors of the commitment to clean energy. Although the federal government has a critical role to play to catalyze private investment in clean energy, the private sector must continue to accelerate its investments in clean energy and efficiency technology research, development, deployment and commercialization. “The focus now has got to be on getting these worlds and mechanisms together to finance innovative, renewable technology.” Industry leaders like venture capitalist John Doerr argued for the necessity of a price on carbon pollution — demonized by the right as a job-killing energy tax — to allow the private sector to innovate new energy jobs. “We need to take that little spark” of emerging clean-energy industries “and turn it into a wildfire,” said Reid, to “ease the nation’s security problems and help overcome economic woes.” Austan Goolsbee, chief economist on Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, cited Center for American Progress research that found that the clean energy economy is unique because “it has the potential to employ both highly skilled scientists and blue-collar workers hurt by the stalled construction industry,” unlike other emerging technology fields. “Export-led growth in United States should emphasize clean energy technology,” Goolsbee argued.
THE CHALLENGE: “Time is running out for ourselves and future generations,” warned Phillippe Cousteau at the summit. “The cost to our health, the cost to our security, and the cost to the environment of our addiction to fossil fuels has distorted our economy.” Several speakers highlighted the need to greatly increase public and private investment in research and development. “The total amount we’re spending on clean-energy research and development programs is right around $5 billion,” said Doerr. “Americans spend more on potato chips than we spend on clean-energy research and development.” Goolsbee noted that before the Recovery Act’s investment, the government spent more on federal employee parking subsidies than green R&D. Reid talked frankly about the difficulties of enacting comprehensive energy reform in a Senate hobbled by Republican filibusters. “We have got to be able to suck it up and say ‘I may not get all I want,'” Reid said. “We are not going to be able, as much as people want, to have a price on all carbon.” However, he believed that more focused initiatives still had a chance. “The utilities are really interested in doing this” — capping carbon pollution — “because they want the certainty” for future investment. Reid “remains hopeful the Senate will complete work this year on a narrow energy bill that includes provisions to boost deployment of natural gas-powered trucks and rebates for home energy efficiency retrofits,” dubbed “Homestar.” At the summit, even conservative Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue — who gets his “facts from Newt Gingrich,” according to natural-gas booster T. Boone Pickens — endorsed Homestar. “Homestar is a smart, common sense solution to America’s jobs crisis, which will build U.S. industry and save homeowners over $9 billion on their energy bills,” Bracken Hendricks, Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress Action Fund, has explained.
THE OPPOSITION: This consensus among business leaders and politicians on clean energy policies that would put a price on pollution and drive investment into renewables and efficiency has been a recurring theme at these annual clean energy summits. But the move to create millions of green jobs and restore American technological leadership has been stalled by polluter opposition. Since 1999, the oil, gas, and coal industries have spent over $2 billion lobbying Congress, 20 times as much as the clean energy industry has spent. In 2009, polluter interests outspent clean energy on Capitol Hill twelve to one. And that spending doesn’t take into account the advertising campaigns, oil industry roadshows, and the millions of dollars in political contributions to politicians. The fossil-fueled lobbying has combined with ideological opposition to the President’s clean energy agenda to produce a bumper crop of political candidates who have sworn fealty to pollution. Across the nation, Republican candidates are not only attacking clean energy investment but also denying the scientific threat of global warming pollution. From New Mexico to New Hampshire, candidates spouting right-wing conspiracy theories about climate science are attempting to take the governors’ mansions and seats in Congress. The opposition isn’t just aimed at preventing progress, but also rolling back clean success stories. Last week, right-wing oil billionaires David and Charles Koch contributed $1 million to the Proposition 23 campaign to block California’s landmark global warming law, joining oil companies Tesoro and Valero.
Speaking to a gathering of American Muslims last night, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the planned Quran burning as a “disrespectful, disgraceful act.” Attorney General Eric Holder told a private gathering of religious leaders that the idea is “idiotic and dangerous.”
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the right of a Florida church to burn copies of the Quran. Bloomberg, who has been a vociferous defender of the planned Islamic center near Ground Zero, said he found the planned burnings “distasteful,” but that “the First Amendment protects everybody.”
The U.S. imam behind the Islamic center proposal in New York said “the project will continue” as planned. In a New York Times op-ed today, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said the community center “will amplify the multifaith approach” by including separate prayer spaces for Muslims, Christians, and Jews and a multifaith memorial to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
During a speech at a Texas community college fundraiser, President Bush recalled the time when an Iraqi journalist threw his shoe at him during a press conference in Baghdad. “Remember the guy who threw the shoe?” Bush said. “It was the weirdest moment of my presidency. It was like Ted Williams, who said he could see the stitches on the baseball. It was coming at me in slow motion.”
President Obama said today that “he opposes any compromise that would extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy beyond this year.” Obama endorsed extending the current “rates for the 98 percent of households with income below $250,000 for couples and $200,000 for individuals.”
Health insurers across the country have “asked for premium increases of between 1% and 9% to pay for extra benefits” they are required to provide under the recently passed health care law. If the increases are enacted, “some consumers could face total premium increases of more than 20%.”
Two U.S. soldiers were killed yesterday and nine were wounded in a firefight outside an Iraqi Army base north of Baghdad. They were the first American casualties since President Obama announced the end of combat operations in Iraq last week. Two days earlier, U.S. soldiers helped Iraqi forces push back “a highly coordinated attack by insurgents” in Baghdad.
In an internal report released today, BP spread the blame for the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill, saying that multiple companies and work teams contributed to the catastrophe. The report was written before a key piece of evidence — BP’s blow-out preventer — was even analyzed.
Yesterday, U.S. Chief District Court Judge Royce Lamberth refused the administration’s request to stay an earlier injunction preventing federal funding for human embryonic stem-cell research. In a three-page order, Lamberth said a temporary stay would “flout the will of Congress” and that the administration “was incorrect that a ‘parade of horribles’ would result” from his decision.
And finally: “Apparently, kids were available for loan” at the Michigan Republican convention last week, as candidates were spotted on stage with children that did not belong to them. State Sen. Cameron Brown and his wife, “were handed a cute, chubby baby and darling blond-haired girl” wearing a Brown campaign shirt — but the “loaner kids” belonged to a campaign volunteer, not Brown.
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“The original stimulus… has been a complete failure.”
Fox News’ Monica Crowley, 9/07/10
“[T]he notion that the stimulus ‘failed’ is debatable at best. … [It] has been responsible for more than 2.5 million jobs and has boosted gross domestic product by $400 billion.”
— CBS News, 9/07/10