Pundits Gone Wild: Ronald Brownstein

by William Yeatman on June 15, 2010

in Blog

Over the weekend, Atlantic/MSNBC pundit Ronald Brownstein wrote an atrocious column on energy policy for National Journal. It was so bad that he usurped Thomas Friedman at the top of my shit list for awful commentary on energy.

In instances such as Brownstein’s A Mayday Manifesto for Clean Energy, wherein every sentence is either dross or wrong, there is only one way to set the record straight: Brownstein must be Fisked*.

* Fisk [fisk]

an Internet argument tactic involving a reprinting of an article or blog post, interlarded with rebuttals and refutations, often intended to show the original is a sandpile of flawed facts, unfounded assertions, and logical fallacies. Named for English journalist Robert Fisk (b.1946), Middle East correspondent for the “Independent,” whose writing often criticizes America and Israel and is somewhat noted for looseness with details. Related: Fisked ; fisking .

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Mr. Brownstein is Fisked in the footnotes to each paragraph of his piece.

Ronald Brownstein, A Mayday Manifesto for Clean Energy
National Journal, 12 May 2010

The horrific oil spill staining the Gulf of Mexico is an especially grim monument to America’s failure to forge a sustainable energy strategy for the 21st century1.

1 By the same token, hospitals and schools are especially cheerful monuments to America’s conventional energy strategy of the 19th and 20th century. Yes, the Gulf spill is horrific, but so is a life of immobility. Let us remember, oil is good.

But it is not the only one.

Another telling marker came in a jarring juxtaposition this week. On June 10, a group of technology-focused business leaders — including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr1, and the current or former chief executives of General Electric2, DuPont3, Lockheed Martin, and Xerox — issued a mayday manifesto urging a massive public-private effort to accelerate research into clean-energy innovations. Without such a commitment, they warned, the United States will remain vulnerable to energy price shocks4; continue to “enrich hostile regimes” that supply much of the United States’ oil5; and cede to other nations dominance of “vast new markets for clean-energy technologies6.” At precisely the moment these executives were scheduled to unveil their American Energy Innovation Council report, the Senate was to begin debating a resolution from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to regulate the carbon dioxide emissions linked to global climate change.

1 According to USA Today, Doerr’s firm placed “big bets” on green technology, so it’s not terribly shocking that he would endorse public policies that force consumers to use green energy.
2GE is a world leader in the manufacture of green energy technology, and spends millions of dollars every year lobbying for government policies to force consumers to use green energy.
3Due to business as usual decisions on manufacturing processes, DuPont stands to make hundreds of millions of dollars in “early action” carbon credits under a cap-and-trade energy rationing system.
4Green energy is more expensive than conventional energy! By forcing consumers to use expensive energy, government imposes a green energy price shock.
5I hate this jingoistic blather, but if Brownstein wants to play this game, then the obvious solution to “energy dependence” is “drill, baby, drill.
6Of all the pseudo-facts proffered by green energy advocates, the idea that we are losing a global, mercantilist race for green energy supremacy is the stupidest. There is only one source of demand for green energy technologies–first world governments–and inefficient, statist markets are never the subject of global great games.

However the Senate vote turned out (after this column went to press)1, the disapproval resolution has virtually no chance of becoming law because it is unlikely to pass the House2 and would be vetoed by President Obama if it ever reached him. But the substantial support that Murkowski’s proposal attracted highlights the political obstacles looming in front of any policy that aims to seriously advance alternatives to the carbon-intensive fossil fuels that now dominate the United States’ energy mix. Her resolution collided with the Innovation Council report like a Hummer rear-ending a hybrid.

1The resolution failed, 47 to 53, with 6 Democrats joining the entire Senate Republican Caucus in support.
2Not true; a companion disapproval resolution offered in the House by powerful Reps. Colin Peterson (MN) and Ike Skelton (MO) already has been cosponsored by 23 other Democratic Representatives. If the Senate had passed the Murkowski Resolution, all the tea leaves point (Blue Dog support, an upcoming election year, the need for many Reps. To atone for last summer’s “aye” vote on cap-and-tax) to a close House vote.

It’s reasonable to argue that Congress, not EPA, should decide how to regulate carbon1. But most of those senators who endorsed Murkowski’s resolution also oppose the most plausible remaining vehicle for legislating carbon limits: the comprehensive energy plan that Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., recently released2. Together, those twin positions effectively amount to a vote for the energy status quo in which the United States moves only modestly to unshackle itself from oil, coal, and other fossil fuels.

1 Yes, it is. After the Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts v EPA (2007) that greenhouse gases could be regulated under the Clean Air Act, Michigan Rep. John Dingell, who authored the Act, said that, “This [regulating greenhouse gases] is not what was intended by the Congress.” Moreover, the Congress considered but ultimately removed emissions requirements from a 1990 Clean Air Act update. Despite the absence of a Congressional mandate, Obama’s EPA is pressing ahead with greenhouse gas regulations. For many Senators-including 6 Democrats-this is an unacceptable power grab by the executive branch.
2Doesn’t this stand to reason? Cap-and-trade repeatedly has failed to pass through the Congress-why would legislators vote down a policy and then stand pat while unelected bureaucrats enact that policy?

The Innovation Council proposes a more ambitious course. (The Bipartisan Policy Center, the centrist think tank where my wife works, provided staff support for the group.) The council frames the need for a new energy direction as being as much of an economic imperative as an environmental one. It calls for a national energy strategy centered on a $16 billion annual federal investment in energy research — as much, the group pointedly notes, as the United States spends on imported oil every 16 days1.

1Blah-we’ve already wasted billions of dollars on government-funded energy research. Sad to say, but $16 billion is but a drop in the bucket.

Equally important, the group urges that government catalyze the development of energy alternatives by sending “a strong market signal” through such mechanisms as mandates on utilities to produce more renewable energy or “a price or a cap” on carbon emissions1. Such a cap is precisely what the Senate resolution sought to block. But the business leaders said that it is one of the policies that could “create a large, sustained market for new energy technology.”

1ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!?? Renewable energy mandates (a.k.a. soviet style productions quotas) and “a cap” on carbon emissions (a.k.a. Soviet style energy rationing) ARE NOT “market signals”!!!! They are tools with which the government picks and chooses winners in the enrgy industry.

One of the council’s key insights was to recognize that expanded energy research and limits on carbon (or other mandates to promote renewable power) are not alternative but complementary policies: One increases the supply of new energy sources; the other increases demand for them1. Earlier this month, the nonpartisan Information Technology & Innovation Foundation echoed this conclusion in a report warning that the United States is already faltering in the race for new markets. With the world readying to spend $600 billion annually on clean-energy technology by 20202, the group noted, the United States is now running a trade deficit in these products and facing “declining export market shares” virtually everywhere.

1Indeed, all statist market machinations are complimentary.
2 Again, this supposed $600 billion demand is wholly derivative of first world governments. Absent government supports and mandates, the renewable energy industry is not viable.

Other nations are seizing these opportunities faster. In China, stiff mandates to deploy renewable sources domestically are nurturing local companies capable of capturing international markets1. It’s revealing that even as venerable an American firm as California-based Applied Materials, which produces the sophisticated machinery used to manufacture solar panels, opened a research center last fall in Xian, China. “If the U.S. becomes a bigger market for us, definitely we’d have to readjust our strategy,” general manager Gang Zou recently told visiting journalists. “But today, our customer market is in Asia.” Like the devastation in the Gulf, that stark assessment underscores the price that the United States is paying for the debilitating energy stalemate symbolized by this week’s Senate showdown2.

1 This is hogwash. China is building 3 coal fired power plants every two weeks, and the government is aggressively locking up oil and gas reserves in other countries.
2
Brownstein finally gets it right-Americans will pay a steep price for last week’s Senate vote. The EPA is trying to dictate its own regulatory pace, but it doesn’t have a choice. According to the text of the Clean Air Act, the feds must regulate all sources larger than a mansion. That would include YOUR small business, YOUR apartment, or YOUR office. Naturally, the EPA wants to avoid such an onerous regulatory regime, and it has devised a legal strategy to that end. The courts, however, have little leeway when it comes to interpreting the statutory text of the law. As a result, the EPA will be forced to regulate virtually the entire economy. The Senate could have stopped a runaway regulatory nightmare by voting for the Murkowski resolution, but Senate leadership is beholden to environmentalists, so it engineered an 11th hour defeat of the legislation. Now there’s nothing standing between you and the green police.

John A. Jauregui June 27, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Question: What are the chances an infinitesimal (.04%) trace gas (CO2), essential to photosynthesis and therefore life on this planet, is responsible for runaway Global Warming?

Answer: Infinitesimal

The IPCC now agrees. See the IPCC Technical Report section entitled Global Warming Potential (GWP). And the GWP for CO2? Just 1, (one), unity, the lowest of all green house gases (GHG). What’s more, trace gases which include GHG constitute less than 1% of the atmosphere. Of that 1%, water vapor, the most powerful GHG, makes ups 40% of the total. Carbon dioxide is 1/10th of that amount, an insignificant .04%. If carbon dioxide levels were cut in half to 200PPM, all plant growth would stop according to agricultural scientists. It’s no accident that commercial green house owner/operators invest heavily in CO2 generators to increase production, revenues and profits. Prof. Michael Mann’s Bristle cone tree proxy data (Hockey stick) proves nothing has done more to GREEN (verb) the planet over the past few decades than moderate sun-driven warming (see solar inertial motion) together with elevated levels of CO2, regardless of the source. None of these facts have been reported in the national media. Why?

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