Harnessing Apollo's Fire: Interview with Congressman Jay Inslee
The disastrous oil crisis still unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico is only the most recent reminder that America is overdue to start a major transition to a clean energy economy. And meaningful energy reform is something that Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA) has been pursuing for years. His book, Apollo's Fire, co-authored with Bracken Hendricks and with a foreword by some guy named Bill Clinton, is a veritable road map to how the nation can curb carbon and grow jobs by ushering in a clean energy boom.
Needless to say, Rep Inslee is one of the greatest allies the clean energy movement has in the House. I recently interviewed Inslee over email correspondence -- here are his thoughts on the need to price carbon, the obstructionist fossil fuel lobbies, and how to bring about an Apollo-type program for clean energy technology.Your book makes an excellent case for starting the transition to a clean energy economy as soon as possible--given the current state of legislation in the Senate, how do you feel that would be best achieved right now?
Jay Inslee: We are innately optimists in America, so we believe progress is possible - even in the Senate! Despite a lot of political drama, the good news is that a bipartisan clean energy bill can evolve in the Senate, based both on the imperative of action this year and Senators who recognize the economic potential of a clean energy economy. At least two Republican senators have stepped forward with proposals that restrain carbon pollution and promote a host of incentives for the clean energy we so desperately need.
Action now is both necessary and possible. It is necessary not just because of the momentum of climate change, but because the international race to dominate the world economy in clean energy has started - and we are barely in the race. This year China surpassed the United States in investments in clean energy and has committed to an enormous near term investment that will dwarf America's efforts in solar photovoltaics, solar thermal, and wind deployment. We face the prospect of replacing our addiction to Middle Eastern oil with an addiction to Chinese electric batteries and the cars they power. As Republican Lindsay Graham has said, "Now my concern is that every day that we delay trying to find a price for carbon is a day that China uses to dominate the green economy."
Action is possible because the House has provided the Senate with a template on how to strike the regional and industrial balances that will be necessary to obtain 60 votes in the Senate. For coal regions, we showed a way to provide research funds for coal sequestration. For areas dependent upon steel, cement, and glass manufacturing, we provided the Inslee-Doyle amendment to ensure that manufacturing jobs are not outsourced to countries with no carbon restraint regimes. For areas that see nuclear power in their future, we provided loan guarantees. There is a path for success, so long as there is committed leadership to get there.
Do you feel that it is possible to have comprehensive energy reform without pricing carbon?
If one thing is absolutely clear about the economics of energy, it is that as long as it is free to put carbon into the atmosphere, polluters will. Indeed, creating of millions of clean energy jobs is dependent upon ending the largest unjustified subsidy in world history: the subsidy that allows the fossil fuel industry to use our atmosphere as a dumping ground in unlimited amounts at zero cost. This hidden subsidy totally distorts the energy markets. We have only one atmosphere, and it is being given away as an airborne sewer to the industries that spew gigatons of carbon into it without any constraint whatsoever.
How can clean energy industries compete when this huge subsidy is being given gratis to the fossil fuel industries? They cannot. But once the true cost to the nation of coal-produced carbon pollution is built into the price of coal-produced energy, solar can compete. Once the true costs of oil pollution is factored into the price of gas-powered cars and trucks, electric vehicles can compete. Ours is a market-based economy that properly functions only when the market works, only when all players incur the true costs of their enterprises and reap the true rewards of their work. Only when carbon pollution is limited will we obtain both of those conditions.
How obstructive have special interests and industry groups like API really been in preventing clean energy from taking root--and do you have any ideas about what can be done to counter them?
The impact of entrenched special interests cannot be overstated. We know the tobacco industry was successful for decades in blocking reform even when the science was clear. That same movie is playing played out here, with gross distortions backed by millions of dollars of advertising that create doubt about the science and anxiety clean energy policies. We can fight it by spreading the truth, one grain at a time. We can fight it by reforming our campaign finance laws. And we can vote.
What would your advice be to the everyday Joe looking to get involved in helping usher in an era of clean energy?
Here are five things to do:
1: Vote for candidates that support sound energy policy and let them know why you voted.
2: Find a good candidate, help them get elected and tell them why you are doing so.
3: Screw in a few good, efficient light bulbs.
4: Think a few minutes about how, why, and when you move, and see if you can do it in a way that fits your health, financial and work needs, and yet move us forward to a cleaner community.
5: Talk to your spouse or roommate for ten minutes about how you could reduce wasted energy in your home. You will be amazed what you can accomplish.
6: Crack a root beer and enjoy your success from steps one through five
What are the most effective ways, in your opinion, of getting Americans engaged in clean energy and climate issues?
In today's world the priorities are jobs, jobs and jobs. The way to engage Americans is to share with them the vision of new jobs based on a new clean energy economy.