The Institute for 21st Century Energy is a project of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which bills itself as a bipartisan trade association. In fact, it has effectively become part of the Republican machine, dominated by — and lobbying fiercely for the interests of — Big Oil, Big Auto, Big Pharma, and other such Bigs.
Earlier this week, the Institute released its long awaited Blueprint for Securing America’s Energy Future [PDF], which contains more than 75 recommendations for lawmakers. While not nearly as bad as I expected — fully implemented it would represent an improvement over the status quo — it still reflects the biases of its source.
As Keith Johnson says, it is an honest-to-God "all of the above" energy policy. It contains everything from efficiency to utility decoupling to subsidies for clean coal and nukes to expanded drilling to long-term extension of renewable tax credits. I can’t think of an energy policy idea from the last five years that hasn’t made it in.
Oh, wait, yes I can: anything that taxes, regulates, or otherwise constrains business in any way.
Here we should keep Mr. Casten’s dictum in mind: successful business are not supporters of competitive markets. Once a business is successful, it has everything to lose from competition. Its interests are served by erecting barriers to entry, pleading for subsidies and special favors, and otherwise cementing its relationships with the politically powerful.
So we should interpret the Institute’s recommendations through that lens. Don’t expect any "creative destruction" from an organization composed of those profiting from the status quo. They’re happy to have taxpayers subsidize utilities that pursue efficiency, subsidize big energy companies that pursue clean coal, subsidize renewables and nuclear power and conservation programs. Yay for subsidies! And they love targeted tax breaks like their own children. The overall shape of this program is to funnel money from taxpayers to businesses working on energy solutions.
But a smart society (ha ha) would not adopt "all of the above." It would not make Give Every Energy-Related Business a Handout its energy strategy. Some solutions are better than others; some flourish in open, competitive markets while some require heavy market intervention; some are cost-effective and some aren’t; some create other problems and others don’t. It is the job of policymakers to discern, to judge which solutions are effective and which aren’t. In the end, a real energy program will require some dislocation; it will require that some private interests give up the favors they’ve enjoyed and their privileged position in the establishment. There will be losers. Just don’t look to the Chamber of Commerce to single them out.