Put aside the giant lie that helped Mitt Romney score political points in the last debate about the supposed $90 billion Obama has invested in green energy (actual figure: 1/3 of that), or the 50% of the companies invested in having gone out of business (actual figure: 1%). Even if, as many political pundits put it, Obama was trying to take the high road, not attack his opponent, and appear more polite, genuine, and presidential, his opportunity to fight back on this point was a big one and he missed it big time.
The idea that the government has been picking “winners and losers” is a narrative that Romney and the GOP have been trying to focus on, holding up Solyndra as the ultimate in failed policies from the Obama presidency. But here’s the thing–government has ALWAYS invested in new technologies and industries that represent significant advances for the country. Whether it was rail, interstate highway systems, the internet, or, yes, even oil field development, the federal government has always played a helping role giving America an edge over other countries.
At the moment, Obama has an opportunity to take this bull by the horns.
- First, during the great recession, credit was extremely tight. By providing government-backed guaranteed loans, Obama was helping to provide liquidity in the market. Plain and simple, this is a smart act to help keep America from going off the financial cliff it was on in 2008 and 2009. He should not need to apologize for this, whether it was guaranteed loans for clean energy or guaranteed loans for the roller skating industry. America needed loans and the banks were not providing. The alternative was more lost jobs, and more expenses for the government anyway, as people stopped paying taxes and started drawing from unemployment. It’s like sticking a finger in a dam until you can get a better fix or until the cavalry arrives. But it’s certainly better than just standing by and watching the water come through.
- By investing in clean energy, Obama’s guaranteed loans helped provide a footing for nascient industries that can and will help create American jobs that can’t be outsourced, for generations to come. You simply can’t outsource wind energy jobs when the wind is blowing in Iowa…it needs people in Iowa to service it.
- Lastly, the alternative is to simply let the free market decide. Besides the fact that liquidity wasn’t flowing anyway, there are other problems with this line of thinking. The free market tends to have a short term fixation, and as long as the true costs of doing business are not represented, things like coal seem cheaper than cleaner energy. They’re not. As we pointed out previously, if you were to take into account the health costs of burning coal, which the government and citizens pay for (to the tune of $345 billion annually), coal would cost 3x what wind does. With oil, it’s a similar dynamic. In addition, when there is no regulation, you get shenanigans that cost taxpayers billions. For instance, when the oil platform run by Halliburton and drilling for BP went boom, it was flying the flag of the Marshall Islands…allowing the company owning it to avoid U.S. taxes.
Aside from these points, Obama missed a huge opportunity to showcase what is exactly wrong with the Republican approach. Halliburton and BP, not exactly good corporate citizens, created one of the biggest disasters in American history with the Gulf oil spill in 2010. It destroyed jobs, communities and economic opportunity, not to mention wildlife, water quality, and contaminated food.
But listening to the debate, you’d think the spill had never happened.
President Obama needs to focus the country on *why* we need to invest in a clean energy future.
- American jobs that can’t be outsourced. (When it comes to creating jobs, it’s hard to beat a wind farm.)
- An industry that will last (coal and oil aren’t getting cheaper, and every other country around the world is also investing in clean tech).
- The alternative is “drill baby drill”, which is, any way you slice it, a band-aid. Oil will run out. What then???