The plate of cold leftovers served up by House Republican leaders last week as their "Pledge to America" contained only a token glance at energy - a repetition of banal attacks on cap-and-trade.
The pledge is a campaign platform, a collection of dime store platitudes badly dressed up as profundities for the ages. Few thinking people take such pap seriously, nor should they.
More important is what we might look forward to - poor choice of phrasing, I know - when the 112th Congress convenes in January. Will lawmakers giving themselves backaches from their industrious posturing be capable of getting anything done about energy before the infernal dance of the 2012 election cycle commences?
In the interest of optimism, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee pointed out at a Washington Post energy jamboree last Thursday that there are a few things that both parties can agree on.
One is electrifying transportation. Another is spending more on energy research and development so that disruptive technologies like EV's can break through the stranglehold incumbency of oil and dirty coal.
Energy research and development has suffered from neglect. Compared to the relatively large sums that are invested in research for other industries, energy research and development amounts to less than a penny per dollar of sales.
In the pharmaceutical world, research and development investment from public and private sources totals nearly 19 percent of sales. For computers and electronics, it's almost 8 percent. Even the ramshackle auto industry totes up $2.40 in research and development funds for every $100 in sales.
For energy, the figure is 0 point 3. For every $100 in sales, 30 cents is spent on research and development. That will have to change, even if next year's Congress, in an astonishing outbreak of resolute forward-thinking, were to put a price on carbon pollution.
Earlier this year, a band of business high-flyers held a press conference to, among other things, call for tripling federal energy research and development spending from $5 billion to $16 billion annually. Among them was Jeff Immelt, the General Electric CEO who last Thursday pronounced U.S. dithering on energy policy to be "stupid," and Bill Gates, who has added energy to his eclectic list of public policy interests.
To ensure that the money is spent strategically and not to create gift boxes for parochial agendas, the execs proposed multi-year appropriations, restricting support to technologies that can be scaled up, ring-fencing energy dollars from the earmarking trough, and concentrating the money in research centers rather than spraying it in bits and pieces across dozens of labs and universities in politically important congressional districts.
Increasing energy research and development expenditure in the service of stewardship, economic development, and energy security would be a hard enough sell when the budget faces a squeeze. Keeping the research program reasonably free of taint from the greasy politicking that often attends disbursement of federal dollars would be herculean.
If Congress can do half as much for energy next year, it will be an amazing accomplishment.
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