SputnikEnergy Secretary Steven Chu made the case that China’s heavy investment in cleantech is like the early days of the space race.Photo: NASAWith Republicans taking aim at the EPA and the Energy Department, Steven Chu, the top dog on the latter, is trying to make sure he’s at least a moving target. 

A change of race: At a speech in Washington yesterday, Chu made the case that China’s heavy investment in cleantech R&D is like the early days of the space race when the Soviet Union threw down the gauntlet by launching Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the Earth. Chu argued that if the U.S. wants to stay in the game, it needs to keep pumping money into high-tech research.

Chu also tossed out some telling statistics, such as: Of the $3.6 trillion 2010 federal budget, only 0.14 percent went for energy R&D. And that in 1998, the American share of worldwide high-tech exports was nearly 25 percent and China’s was less than 10 percent; by 2008, China’s share was 20 percent and the American share was less than 15 percent. [The New York Times]

We have met the enemy and he’s not us: For her part, EPA director Lisa Jackson laid down a round of suppressing fire at Republican critics during her own speech yesterday in Aspen. She emphasized that few pieces of legislation compare to the Clean Air Act when it comes to cost versus benefit. The health benefits, she said, far outweigh the costs of compliance by more than a 15 to 1 ratio. [The Hill] And in an interview with Newsweek, Jackson also responded to suggestions that she was losing the battle to EPA critics:

You need to separate what happens inside the Beltway echo chamber here with what happens in the countryside. People expect their government to take care of them and their families. Not special interests, not highly paid lobbyists. This agency plays an important role that way. I understand that people need a villain, but this agency is not the villain. My belief has always been that you can have a clean and healthy environment and a thriving economy at the same time.

And in other green news: 

When zombies think: For a taste of what Jackson will be facing, check out the report in Climate Progress on a recent briefing for conservative bloggers by Tim Phillips, head of Americans for Prosperity. That’s one of groups that provides Washington muscle to the Tea Party movement. Phillips said it’s critical to make the EPA “a political albatross for members of Congress.” He also bragged, “If we win the science argument, it’s game, set, and match.”

Old Blood and Nuts: Then there’s Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who’s pulling out the big guns in his last ditch attempt to be named chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He’s sent a slideshow to all of the Republican House members in which he presents new Speaker of the House John Boehner (Ohio) as the Republican’s Dwight Eisenhower in the war against the Obama White House. And he offers himself as none other than the party’s George Patton, promising “put anything in my sight and I will shoot it.” Now that’s brilliant energy policy. [Washington Post]

Is there anything corn can’t do?: These are strange times in Washington, so strange that green groups and Tea Partiers have joined forces to lobby against extending the $6 billion a year ethanol subsidy. [The Hill]

Do your business: It’s way beyond time to move beyond the tired “economy vs. environment” debate, argues writer Jason Scorse, who says businesses now need to step up both with technological innovation and support for environmental regulation. Writing for GreenBiz, Scorse lays out the challenge:

The companies that develop the world’s first low-cost solar panels, low-cost wind turbines, low-cost electric cars, low-cost water purification plants, and most energy-efficient infrastructure will enjoy almost unlimited market potential. America could become that leader, but we are already falling behind. The profit motive is sufficient to keep Silicon Valley and many creative leaders pouring billions into new green-tech projects, but this must be complemented by sound environmental policy at the state and national levels. Ideally, this policy would place a consistent and increasing cost on polluting behavior. It would also channel government resources (which could be supported by the fees on pollution) into basic R&D in a variety of technologies, in order to remain unbiased against nascent technologies.

Grant slam: The Center for Public Integrity reveals that in its rush to spread stimulus around, the Obama administration has passed out grant money to big polluters such as BP and DuPont with little, if any, environmental oversight or review.  

I’ll have the stir fly: Next spring, Lufthansa will start using vegetable-oil based fuel along with traditional jet fuel on commercial flights between Frankfurt and Hamburg. [AFP]

See what you mythed: An electric car will drive up their utility bills. And all those plugged-in cars will overload the power grid. Myth and myth. See eight wrong notions about electric vehicles. [Mother Jones]

Plastic purgery: New research suggests that the Chinese don’t like paying for plastic bags either. Use of the bags was cut in half once people were charged for them. This, by one estimate, has kept close to 100 billion bags from turning into trash. [GOOD]