For every innovative and far-sighted initiative shown by Congress to address the nation’s growing energy demand, there is inevitably a reaction from legacy energy interests and their front groups aimed at casting doubts on the propriety of anything that challenges the status quo.
The Heritage Foundation is one of the latest short-sighted interest groups to attack farm bill energy programs and, by extension, other federal renewable energy incentive policies.
In a blog published on the conservative think tank’s Web site earlier this week, the author, an economic policy analyst, took particular aim at a “marker” bill from Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Al Franken (D-MN) that calls for $1.325 billion in mandatory funding for the energy title in a new five-year farm bill now being considered in both house of Congress.
The Senate Agriculture Committee Tuesday adopted a farm bill that authorizes some $800 million in mandatory funding for farm energy programs.
The blog dismisses the funding as “more wasteful green subsidies” and characterize as “preferential treatment” other renewable energy incentive policies, including the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
As a general rule, most attacks on government support of nascent technologies fail to acknowledge history, as well as underestimate the returns on public investment in new technologies.
As the House Science Committee pointed out in a statement released last month, the federal government has a long history of taking on technical and financial risk that the private sector cannot absorb on its own, and of supporting emerging technologies and resources that yield long-term benefits for the country.
Computers, cell phones, automobiles, even microwave ovens, all have spawned industries that contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy, but not without an initial investment from the federal government.
The results of decades of U.S. government investment are never more obvious today than in the oil, gas, nuclear and coal industries. Yet, advocates for these industries consistently complain that moving public investment into emerging renewable and efficiency-related technologies is irrational, since they still represent a relatively small market share.
Malcolm Woolf, senior vice president for Policy and Government Affairs at Advanced Energy Economy, told the House committee in March that the public investment being made today in renewable technologies will result in the biorefineries, solar facilities and wind farms that will be operating four decades from now.
The Heritage Foundation blog is also highly critical of programs that facilitate energy efficiency technology in rural areas, ignoring the reality that many rural areas lack the resources to undertake efficiency measures. Once implemented, those measures will save money and boost the local economy, making a more long-term contribution to a community’s quality of life.
The blog takes particular aim at the 1.28-billion-gallon biodiesel requirement under the RFS, claiming the mandate raises the price of soybeans to the detriment of consumers. The assertion flies in the face of a recent study done in Nebraska, Minnesota and the Dakotas showing that while increased soybean production has raised prices and boosted local economies, the impact of the higher prices on feed and food products has been negligible.
Renewable energy stakeholders need to be constantly ready to challenge the bluster of short-sighted critics and those who deny the benefits of a new and cleaner energy future. The burgeoning technologies that harness biomass, wind and the sun create jobs and boost our economy. By reducing imports, they improve our energy security, which, the U.S. military reminds us, is our national security. And they provide cleaner options in meeting our electricity and transportation needs.