By: Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr./ April 22, 2009
Whether Christmas trees or Menorahs, every holiday has its symbols. For the promoters of Earth Day, these symbols are windmills and solar panels. Rows of wind turbines or fields of solar panels are ubiquitous inclusions in every report on Earth Day. For their proponents, these renewable technologies aren’t just a component of a broad energy portfolio, they are our entire energy future.
The importance of new and advanced technologies is paramount to our energy security and to confronting climate change. Earth Day advertisements, however, are unlikely to use the image with the most promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: a clean coal smokestack.
It may not be the first picture we imagine when we hear “Earth Day,” but if reducing carbon dioxide emissions is important, then the development of technologies to reduce emissions from coal, like carbon capture and storage, are critical.
Few understand this better than Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. In dedicating his country’s new Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute last week, Rudd laid out the “cold, hard reality” that coal will be a major source of the world’s energy production for many years to come.
And in my home state of Wisconsin, We Energies is hosting a clean coal pilot project at its Pleasant Prairie Power Plant that will attempt to demonstrate a new chilled ammonia technology that promises to produce a highly-efficient rate of carbon capture.
There is a worldwide realization that carbon capture and storage must be mastered. Coal is the world’s largest source of electricity generation. It produces half of the electricity generated in the United States, ninety percent of the electricity in China, and over eighty percent in India.
Simply put, we won’t entirely replace coal with windmills and solar panels, so we need to invest in technologies that reduce the carbon emissions that result from burning coal.
Increasing our energy security and combating climate change will take broad action. Advanced new energy technologies are critical. Nuclear energy, wind, solar, biofuels, and other alternative energies will have to represent an increased share of our energy portfolio. We must also increase our energy efficiency, develop smart grid technologies and build new transmission lines.
Each of these resources and technologies will be an important part of our energy future, but many are currently very expensive. Fortunately, research and development will make them more affordable. Unfortunately, climate change legislation being considered in Congress would try to force these expensive technologies onto ratepayers before they are affordable. Carbon trading schemes—which I like to call cap-and-tax—and renewable energy standards won’t make new technologies more affordable, they will simply mandate them before they are cost effective.
Experience has taught that technological breakthroughs don’t respond to Congressional mandates—a prime example being the Synthetic Fuels Corporation, a multi-billion dollar Carter-era boondoggle. Directly subsidizing select technologies is also bad policy because, rather than allowing market forces to develop the most efficient technologies, Congress attempts to decide the winners and losers, often in accordance with their own special interests. A better approach is the use of research and development tax credits, which incentivize private investment into research and development and enable more rapid commercialization of new products.
Like most Republicans in Congress, I believe climate change policies must be comprehensive and cannot overly focus on the most politically-popular technologies, like wind and solar. Republicans also know that any global warming legislation must produce real, tangible benefits to the environment. The cap-and-tax policies now being considered in Congress have done little, if anything, to slow Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions, and Americans should not rush to follow this failed lead.
The heavy use of coal by developing nations like China and India underscores the need for any solution to be global, and Republicans will insist that these nations are included in enacting emissions restrictions similar to any the U.S. undertakes.
Lastly, no climate change policy should cost jobs or hurt the economy. A study by the National Association of Manufacturers of an earlier cap-and-tax bill found that the legislation could raise gasoline costs by as much as 145 percent and electricity costs by up to 129 percent by 2030. It’s not clear yet what new cap-and- tax legislation from Congressmen Waxman and Markey will cost because Congressional Democrats have intentionally withheld key numbers. All indications, however, are that this new legislation will be the most expensive yet.
Wind turbines, solar panels and other alternative energies are promising, but our economic growth depends on the availability of affordable energy. If we mandate their use before they are cost effective, taxpayers will pay higher costs, and our economy will suffer.
Higher taxes are no way to celebrate Earth Day. This holiday should be about encouraging and celebrating advances in energy technology that will increase our country’s energy security while improving the environment and the economy. That’s something truly worth celebrating.
# # # #