Robert Rubin — Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Board of Citigroup Inc. and former Clinton administration Treasury Secretary, among many, many other things — gave the afternoon keynote speech at the National Clean Energy Summit, focusing on the macroeconomic woes facing the economy and the possibility for good energy policy to ameliorate them.

Those woes are familiar: the credit crunch, the mortgage crisis, stagnant wages, consumption slacking off. Putting it together, Rubin predicted, basically, more of the same, perhaps getting slightly worse — with low probability of substantial, quick recovery, and low probability of sudden downturn.

That means the next president should have three priorities: first, short-term measures to stabilize the economy, second, long-term measures to stabilize financial conditions, and third, energy. We’ve got to stop endlessly debating and move forward, now.

What investors prize above all else, Rubin says, is certainty, so we must find a way of generating the political will to put in place stable, long-term policy. "If we can meet the political challenge," he said, "we can do everything else."

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This prompted yet another list of policy proposals, one slightly more corporate-focused than Clinton’s, including subsidies to "retool" current dirty industries, reform of trade policy, and removal of "undue regulatory barriers" to nuclear, clean coal, and wind.

Then Rubin, perhaps not knowing what he was getting into, took a few questions. Sure enough … there was somebody from the Rainforest Action Network, which has been campaigning around Citigroup for years. How do you reconcile what you say about the need for carbon abatement with Citigroup’s heavy funding of non-CCS coal plants?

Rubin stammered, "It’s a commercial institution. We have to have energy." He then hemmed and hawed about Citi’s efforts to raise standards and create a new regime and blah blah. It did not look good. RAN woman followed up: Can we expect to see a drop in Citi’s coal investment in the next few months? Said Rubin: No.

The follow-up question took Rubin to task for boosting nuclear power and coal. He seemed totally unprepared to defend Citi and uneducated on these debates, which he did acknowledge we "should be having." Looks like we’re having them!

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