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By Teryn Norris & Devon Swezey

Originally published by The Stanford Review

You know the world is changing when the president’s first trip to Asia is defined by a new U.S. foreign policy dubbed “strategic reassurance” – convincing China that the United States has no intention of containing its growing power or endangering its foreign investments. As the New York Times put it, “When President Obama visits China for the first time on Sunday, he will, in many ways, be assuming the role of profligate spender coming to pay respects to his banker.”

You also know times are changing when China, the world’s greatest polluter, and other Asian nations are poised to dominate the burgeoning global clean-tech industry by out-investing the United States. That’s the conclusion of a large new report we co-authored called “Rising Tigers, Timid Giant (PDF),” released this week by the Breakthrough Institute and Information Technology & Innovation Foundation. The report is the first to thoroughly benchmark clean energy competitiveness in four nations – China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States – and finds the following:

“Asia’s rising ‘clean technology tigers’ – China, Japan, and South Korea – have already passed the United States in the production of virtually all clean energy technologies and over the next five years will out-invest the U.S. three-to-one in these sectors… While some U.S. firms will benefit from the establishment of joint ventures overseas, the jobs, tax revenues, and other benefits of clean tech growth will overwhelmingly accrue to Asian nations… Should the investment gap persist, the U.S. will import the overwhelming majority of clean energy technologies it deploys.”

What do these two changes have in common? They both reflect the accelerating shift of global power from America to Asia, caused in large part by the serious mismanagement of U.S. economic policy.

The Pacific power shift is not a new phenomenon, and the Obama administration is wise to seek stronger ties with the region. The U.S. should applaud Asia’s growth, which is partly an outcome of our own success at promoting economic liberalism and international development. This shift in power is not a zero-sum game, nor should it be: the U.S. and Asia should avoid trade wars at all costs, and we should seize opportunities for partnership on a range of issues, from climate change to nuclear proliferation.

But the growing pace of this power shift should be a cause of major concern for Americans, and it should raise serious questions about our economic policies at the highest level. While the U.S. economy has suffered greatly from a crisis produced by its own financial sector – losing millions of jobs, trillions in economic output, and demanding huge spending packages financed by borrowed money – China has shrugged off the global recession with high levels of growth and self-financed stimulus, all while purchasing billions of Treasury bills to fund a U.S. deficit that has reached historic highs.

Last November, addressing the nation on the evening of his election, President Obama declared that “a new era of American leadership is at hand.” And indeed, his new administration has taken significant steps to remake U.S. foreign policy. But unless the U.S. quickly improves its economic competitiveness, our global leadership will be severely damaged. What is demanded now is a major, coordinated national project to regain our economic competitiveness in strategic sectors while permanently correcting the imbalances that led to the Great Recession.

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NIE Event - Clean EnergyBy Juliana Williams, Originally Posted at It’s Getting Hot in Here

Yesterday, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ) joined Third Way and the Breakthrough Institute in releasing a new report that calls for the creation of a new “National Institutes of Energy” and a dramatic increase in federal funding for energy research and development.  The report, titled Jumpstarting a Clean Energy Revolution with a National Institutes of Energy, argues that these two measures are necessary to make clean energy cheap and get America running on clean energy.

Modeled after the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a National Institutes of Energy (NIE) would be designed to most effectively channel R&D funding toward the development of new, low-cost commercial clean energy technologies.  The NIE would function as a nationwide network of regionally based, commercially focused and coordinated innovation institutes.

“Clean energy is the future of our nation, but it can also create jobs now,” Sen. Brown said. “Done right and well funded, increased research and development of new clean energy technologies will drive innovation and reduce our dependence on foreign energy.”

The report also calls for a sustained increase of $15 billion in annual federal clean energy R&D funding, as proposed by President Barack Obama.  This would result in a total clean energy R&D budget of $20 billion per year.  The purpose of both the R&D increase and the NIE is to close what the authors call the “clean energy price gap” – the difference between the current low price of carbon-intensive energy production like coal and the comparatively higher price of today’s non- or low-carbon emitting technologies. (more…)

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Thursday, 10 Senate Democrats sent a letter to the President Obama outlining their position on upcoming climate policy. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Russell D. Feingold (D-WI), Carl Levin (D-MI), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Robert P. Casey (D-PA), Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), Arlen Specter (D-PA), John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), and Al Franken (D-MN) voiced their position to make sure that effective climate policy both reduces emissions and strengthens American manufacturing.  The letter’s signatories want U.S. climate policy to:

  • Include transition assistance as factories become more efficient and as they retool to make clean energy products in a more efficient way;
  • Set negotiating objectives around manufacturing that the U.S. can take to the Copenhagen climate negotiations in December;
  • Establish mechanisms to verify emissions reductions and hold countries accountable for meeting their goals; and
  • Establish a border adjustment (fee) on goods from countries with less rigorous climate provisions.

The New York Times headline editors were quick to ominously label the letter a “threat” to the passage of a climate bill, but that is hardly the case.  This letter was not an ultimatum stating opposition to climate legislation, or even to the Waxman-Markey bill in particular.  The letter states the Senator’s support for climate action and provides a forum for addressing their clearly stated concerns that if anything, should enable the design of an effective and passable bill.  If these critical swing Senators remain “a threat” to climate legislation, it is more due to failure of creative policy design than the evil machinations of industry-funded hacks from coal states.  So before we vilify these ten Senators – every one of whom is likely necessary to secure passage of any climate or energy legislation – let’s take a close look at what they are actually saying…

“short-term transition assistance in the form of rebates provided to energy-intensive and trade-exposed industries”

While it’s unclear whether this is calling for additional emissions allowances for energy intensive industries, the simple fact is that energy is a primary input to our entire economy, making energy costs a major political and economic sensitivity.  This is most pronounced in states reliant on coal for their electricity mix and/or reliant on energy-intensive industries for their economy (e.g. the states whose senators signed this letter).  That’s the simple reality of climate politics.  It’s long past time to internalize that and pursue good policy design that can still succeed in that political environment.  Good climate policy should be able to support manufacturing in the clean energy economy.  Let’s make sure the details of policy design match the “green jobs” messaging. (more…)

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rush_limbaughDespite President Obama’s call for an energy revolution, it is up to Congress to provide funding.  The Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-e) made a recent call for research proposals into “high-risk, high-payoff transformational energy-related R&D,” for projects that “(1) translate scientific discoveries and cutting-edge inventions into technological innovations and (2) accelerate transformational technological advances in areas that industry by itself is not likely to undertake because of high technical or financial risk.”

Over 3,500 research teams submitted proposals for a slice of the available $150 million.  As a result, over 98% of applicants we “discouraged” from submitting a full application.

Sure, some of the applications were “undoubtedly unrealistic, fundamentally flawed, written in crayon, or the like,” as Andrew Revkin aptly noted at Dot Earth.  But with 98% of all proposals rejected, there’s got to be another explanation for the high rejection rate as well.  Surely at least 5%, 10%, maybe even one third of these proposals are worth further consideration.  Remember: this round of project proposals was simply to get into the next round of consideration where ARPA-e program managers would being the real project grant selection process. No, the reason so many proposals were rejected has more to do with the fact that there is simply not nearly enough money to fund all the good, potentially game-changing clean energy ideas out there.

This problem is not unique to this ARPA-e or this round of research proposals.  It is a chronic symptom of this country’s (under)commitment to clean energy.  (more…)

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Jeff Immelt

Jeff Immelt

In yesterday’s Washington Post, prominent U.S. business leaders John Doerr (from Kleiner Perkins) and Jeff Immelt (CEO of GE) became part of the growing chorus calling on the nation’s leaders to prepare America for the clean-energy race. They warn that the U.S. is quickly falling behind in “the next great global industry”—green technology—with the risk of damaging America’s economic competitiveness.

Doerr and Immelt’s observations mirror recent reporting by the Breakthrough Institute and several major news sources—including TIME, Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal—that show the U.S. trailing Asia in terms of clean-energy investment and deployment. On the question of which nation is leading the US in the clean-energy race, Doerr and Immelt don’t mince their words:

“We are clearly not in the lead today. That position is held by China, which understands the importance of controlling its energy future. China’s commitment to developing clean energy technologies and markets is breathtaking. (more…)

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rejected_graduates-thumb-200x180Lying in the rejected scrap heap created by the Senate’s passage of the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill (H.R. 3183) is RE-ENERGYSE, President Obama’s $115 million energy education program that he proposed last April.

Designed to usher in a new generation of young clean energy innovators by improving education in math and science, RE-ENERGYSE (REgaining our ENERGY Science and Engineering Edge) was a crucial part of Obama’s plan to drive our nation’s transition to a clean energy economy and maintain global competitiveness in the race for clean energy. Unfortunately, the Senate roundly disregarded Obama’s vision to meet the clean energy challenge when it appropriated none of the $34.3 billion in energy spending last week towards the program. Meanwhile, the House only appropriated $7.5 million to perform an assessment study.

By providing necessary educational resources and research opportunities, RE-ENERGYSE is precisely the kind of program the United States needs in order to inspire students to pursue careers in clean energy fields. Had it received funding, the program was slated to prepare approximately 8,500 talented young scientists and engineers to enter the clean energy workforce by 2015 – just for starters. What Congress has failed to recognize is that this fundamental investment in our nation’s youth is critical to facilitating a rapid transition to a clean energy economy.

According to a recent op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle by the Breakthrough Institute’s Jesse Jenkins and Teryn Norris, only around 15% of undergraduate degrees in the U.S. are awarded in the fields of math and science. And as Wall Street investment firms aggressively recruit the nation’s top students — not just in economics and finance, but in math, engineering, and physics — more and more of our nation’s best and brightest scientific minds are directed away from clean technology innovation and into the financial sector. (more…)

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Now featured at HuffingtonPost, by Jesse Jenkins and Teryn Norris

On Monday, Joe Romm of Climate Progress publicly attacked us for publishing an op-ed in the San Francisco Chroniclecalled “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, a commitment of less than 0.1% of U.S. GDP — is sufficient to win the clean energy race. It is not.

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