Hang up your cap

Skip cap-and-trade and invest in clean energy, is the general message of a bipartisan proposal by three think tanks. With the failure of cap-and-trade legislation in Congress, the conservative American Enterprise Institute, left-leaning Brookings Institute and liberal Breakthrough Institute outline a proposal to make clean energy cheaper rather than dirty energy more expensive—and therefore less palatable to powerful interests that tend to tie up progress on climate legislation.

“The extremes have so dominated mainstream thinking on energy that it is easy to forget how much reasonable liberals and conservatives can actually agree on,” the proposal states. “Our goal today should be to make new clean energy sources much cheaper so they can steadily displace fossil fuels, continuing this ongoing process. If we structure this transition correctly, new energy industries could be an important driver of long-term economic growth.”

Among their recommendations are to increase federal spending on clean energy to $25 billion a year, compared to the currently planned $4 billion a year. And recipients could only keep getting that money if they were reducing the cost of clean energy.

“The only path to accomplishing this key objective—making clean energy cheap—is vastly expanded research, development and early stage commercialization and deployment of clean energy technology,” the proposal said.

This “only path” language has some detractors, including Grist.org writer David Roberts in a piece called “There is no one correct climate policy,” comparing such ideas to a monoculture. Like energy itself, climate policy will need to draw from a variety of sources.

Roberts writes, “The carbon price raises the unit cost of dirty energy while efficiency and public investment drive it down. Charging polluters for their climate pollution (and removing existing subsidies to dirty energy) can help raise the money to spend on investment. Regulation can create tangible short-term benefits for the public and help drive industry to the table to negotiate legislation. All the pieces work together, and there’s no reason they can’t all be pushed simultaneously at every level of government.”