Paul Ryan vs. Joe Biden: The VP Debate Tackles "Green Pork," Oil, & Solyndra

The Vice Presidential debate has just concluded, and the early snap polls are giving the edge to Biden. The 90-minute argument careened from the embassy assault in Libya to Medicare to abortion, and it was a lively, spirited thing — a nice change of pace from its weirdly soporific presidential counterpart last week.

Unfortunately, as was the case with the snooze-fest, there was no mention at all of climate change, and there was no deep dive into energy issues. In fact, all we got in the headlights was an affirmation from Paul Ryan that he'd work to expand the nation's (non-renewable) energy sources as the #1 plank of Romney's ever-vague "5 point plan." What little else there was that touched on clean energy was combative and loud; and entertainingly so.

There was the brief smackdown over what Ryan called millions of dollars of "green pork" in the stimulus bill — an attack made all the more ironic when Biden pointed out that Ryan himself had sent two separate requests to the White House for stimulus cash for not one but two "green pork" projects in his home state.

After the moderator made Ryan confirm that he had in fact requested money for two energy efficiency projects in Wisconsin, he still said he opposed the stimulus at large.

Biden did the Biden thing: "I love that. I love that. He writes the Department of Energy a letter saying the reason we need this stimulus; it will create growth and jobs,” he said, laughing.

Ryan attacked clean energy in another line, asking "Was it a good idea to spend taxpayer dollars on electric cars in Finland or on windmills in China?”

Both parts of the statement are half-true at best; no stimulus money went to building "windmills in China." A couple renewable energy companies that employed Americans and manufactured parts in the states did qualify for stimulus funds; none of that money was spent abroad. As for "electric cars in Finland," Ryan is talking about Fisker, a company that received half a billion dollars in loans for R&D for a midrange electric sedan and production of its high-end EV, the Karma. Fisker is an American company, with employees here at home — but the Karma is manufactured in Finland. Again, no money was spent abroad, the company is on track to pay its loans on time, it's still attracting even more private investment, and American workers benefited from the stimulus.

So, yeah — investing in Fisker was a pretty good idea.

But that was mostly it; a few one-liners and a little bickering over stimulus funding. I did like that Biden, albeit in one of his least eloquent moments (and that's saying something), defended Solyndra and the practice of investing in risky, cutting-edge clean energy projects.

Biden said, through objections from Ryan, that "His colleague runs an investigative committee — [that] spent months and months and months going into this ... They found no evidence of cronyism." And he defended the DOE loan guarantee program in general, though I wish he'd done it in a way that made sense to more than a couple energy wonks watching.

"By the way, that program — again, investigated," he said, "what the Congress said was, it was a model: less than four-tenths of one percent waste or fraud in the program. And all this talk about cronyism — they investigated, investigated; did not find one single piece of evidence." He added later that only 4% of the green jobs funded never materialized.

The point he was trying to make — I think — is that investing in new, innovative technologies is somewhat risky, and that the government accounts for those risks. Some of the companies and the new clean technologies the government aids won't pan out. But others will, and will pay back those loans. Even with the harsh climate for cleantech we're in, that DOE portfolio is still performing exactly as anticipated, despite high profile collapses like Solyndra.

Anyhow, I'd doubt if more than 1% of those watching followed that stuff; it was smack in the middle of one of the interrupt-a-thons that were rampant throughout the debate. As a whole, green issues were a non-factor here; touched upon only by Ryan, and only as something intended to make Fox News-o-philes nod in consternation. The campaigns' climate silence continues.

Tags: Barack Obama | Mitt Romney