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Rep. Ryan Needs to Learn Something (Anything!) About Clean Energy

Rep. Paul Ryan

SOURCE: AP/Carolyn Kaster

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks about the 2014 budget resolution, Tuesday, March 12, 2013, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

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What do you call a future of dangerous pollution, catastrophic extreme weather events, giveaways to Big Oil companies, and even greater reliance on fossil fuels? If you’re House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), you call it “The Path to Prosperity.”

Not coincidentally, that’s the name of the fiscal year 2014 budget plan Rep. Ryan released yesterday. It contains so many false or misleading attacks on clean energy that you could be forgiven for thinking that some of it just sounds, well—ridiculous. He decries support for so-called special interests; he claims that there have been billions of dollars in failed loans; and he asserts that energy prices are being raised arbitrarily.

His proposal makes clean energy sound terrible. Fortunately, however, none of it is true. The reality is that clean energy is the real “path to prosperity,” and the Ryan plan would take us down exactly the wrong road.

While we shouldn’t hold out much hope that Rep. Ryan will ever change his tune on clean energy, it’s important to know just how wrong he is. There are three key facts about clean energy that he chooses to simply ignore, which leads to the terrible policy recommendations in his budget.

Fact No. 1: Americans of all stripes support clean energy, not fossil fuels

The Ryan budget proposal makes it sound like no one in America besides the Obama administration supports clean energy. But that is simply not the case. In a poll of four swing states—Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, and Virginia—taken after the November 2012 election, more than 70 percent of voters supported continued government investments in clean energy.

Americans support these investments because they know that these are the clean, renewable energy sources of the future. That’s why the government needs to invest in these emerging technologies now as opposed to continuing to subsidize the fossil fuels of the past.

Rep. Ryan’s budget would spend more on dirty fossil fuels than on clean efficiency and renewable power. There’s no reason for the government to be spending anything at all on mature fossil-fuel technologies. How can Rep. Ryan ignore the century’s worth of tax breaks for fossil-fuel companies, which dwarf the recent investments in clean energy? In fact, according to a report by DBL Investors, the oil-and-gas industry received almost 100 times as much federal support as renewables between 1918 and 2009.

While Rep. Ryan writes that “[the Obama administration] pours money into its favored industries,” the fact is that the administration is doing exactly what the American public wants it to do: supporting a transition to a clean energy future by investing in emerging technologies.

Fact No. 2: Clean energy investments are sound investments

Fortunately, investments in clean energy are good sound investments for the government to make.

Much of the Ryan budget is dedicated to slandering companies that received loan guarantees from the Department of Energy. According to Rep. Ryan, “Many of the administration’s loan-guarantee projects have failed.” The fact, though, is that the overwhelming majority of loan-guarantee recipients are thriving and will pay back the government with interest. Just last week, for example, electric-vehicle manufacturer Tesla reported that it will pay back its government loan a full five years ahead of schedule.

In fact, the entire loan-guarantee program for advanced energy technologies is healthy. Just last year, Herb Allison, the national finance chair of Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) 2000 presidential campaign, conducted an analysis of the entire program’s portfolio and concluded that it will cost taxpayers $2 billion less than initially expected.

Far worse than misrepresenting the fiscal health of the clean energy loan-guarantee program, however, Rep. Ryan’s budget plan impugns the fitness of specific successful companies. As a case in point, Rep. Ryan claims, “Beyond Solyndra, the latest ill-fated ventures include a $737 million loan guarantee to Solar Reserve for a 110-megawatt solar tower on federal land in Nevada and a $337 million guarantee for Mesquite Solar 1 to develop a 150-megawatt solar plan in Arizona.”

The problem, of course, is that there’s nothing “ill-fated” about either of these projects. The Mesquite plant is almost completed and will sell power to a utility under a 20-year contract. Solar Reserve’s construction is proceeding as scheduled and is on track to pay back its loan.

Despite undisputable evidence of success, Rep. Ryan proposes to defund the loan-guarantee programs. Not only is this a bad idea, but the idea was already included in the “No More Solyndras Act,” which Congress failed to pass last year. I guess if Rep. Ryan thinks that proposing the same basic failed budget for three years in a row is okay, his reissuing of a recycled bad recommendation on the loan-guarantee program shouldn’t come as a surprise either.

Fact No. 3: We need to reduce pollution

The worst climate-related extreme-weather events have cost Americans $188 billion in the past two years alone. These devastating hurricanes and droughts were made worse by greenhouse gas pollution, which mostly comes from burning fossil fuels. One has to wonder: Does Rep. Ryan think we should do anything to reduce this pollution? It certainly doesn’t appear so. Instead, his budget wrongly assumes that any attempt to make Americans healthier and safer is an arbitrary effort to ration and tax certain sources of energy. The fact is that we need to reduce carbon pollution, and the Obama administration’s efforts to do so are welcomed by the public.

Frankly, Rep. Ryan’s pejorative descriptions of actions to fight climate change are more than tiresome. He says that a market-based system that would cost-effectively reduce carbon pollution is “an elaborate bureaucratic structure for taxing and rationing conventional energy sources.”  Actually, cap and trade—first employed by President Ronald Reagan—is a cost-effective system to cut pollution at a relatively low price, and includes plenty of support for conventional energy sources as long as they reduce their pollution. Not one to let facts get in the way, though, Rep. Ryan describes the Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to reduce pollution as “unilateral,” even though such reductions are required under the Clean Air Act as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court. Clearly, the administration is simply enforcing existing law.

His attack on the EPA is yet another area where Rep. Ryan is out of touch with public sentiment.  Multiple polls have found that the public supports the EPA taking action to reduce carbon pollution. What’s more, the EPA received more than 3 million comments last year urging that it set carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants.

Rep. Ryan’s budget also takes the unprecedented step of approving the Keystone XL pipeline, even though its economic and environmental review is incomplete. He justifies this move by wildly inflating the number of jobs the project would create. In fact, the State Department’s Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement found that the Keystone project would create 35 (that’s right—thirty-five) permanent jobs and 3,500 temporary ones. Meanwhile, the pipeline would facilitate an explosion in tar sands oil production, which produces at least 17 percent more carbon pollution compared to conventional U.S. oil-and-gas production.

Conclusion

Rep. Ryan’s energy proposals in his budget are a mix of bad policy and false notions. For most Americans, his “path to prosperity” takes us backward to more pollution, more wasteful government spending on rich oil companies, and greater reliance on fossil fuels. Rep. Ryan’s budget is a “path to prosperity” only for the fossil-fuel companies that have benefited from a century of federal support and are the cause of devastating climate change. Rep. Ryan’s dated vision of America is out of step with the American individuals and families who want to move toward a truly prosperous future of clean energy and clean air.

Richard Caperton is the Director of the Clean Energy Investment program at the Center for American Progress.

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