A panel of experts on climate change, energy and governance identified key climate and energy policies that the next U.S. president could either execute unilaterally or use to attract bipartisan support. Veterans of the Obama, Bush, Clinton and Reagan administration agreed at the “Setting the Climate Agenda for the Next U.S. President,” conference that the next president will need to confront the reality of climate change, and employ strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pivot to a clean energy economy. The public meeting Friday culminated a series of workshops led by David J. Hayes, a consulting professor at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and Stanford Law School, and former deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior for Presidents Clinton and Obama.
“Let’s try to create this as a nonpartisan issue – not bipartisan, but nonpartisan,” said George Shultz, head of the Hoover Institution’s task force on energy policy and former secretary of state in the Reagan administration. “This has a profound effect not only on us, but on our brothers and sisters around the world, so we should be able to make this a nonpartisan issue. “Climate becomes a divisive issue when the federal government goes beyond paying for research to financially supporting specific companies, Shultz said. “Government has no good track record on being a venture capitalist,” insisted Shultz, who has long supported a federal tax on carbon dioxide emissions to replace all energy subsidies and tax benefits.
The research agenda related to climate and energy is broad and must be managed holistically, said Arun Majumdar, co-director of Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy and professor of mechanical engineering. Many questions need to be answered to decarbonize the world’s existing energy systems, and also to deliver clean electricity affordably to the more than one billion people in the world now living without electric service. Research questions involve not only technology, but also policy, economics and behavior, said Majumdar, who was the founding director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. “While we try to decarbonize energy and maintain economic growth, we have to think about adapting to climate change, because it’s already happening,” he said. “Look at Hurricane Sandy.”
While universities and other research organizations prove the effectiveness of technologies and policies, private businesses must take over when it comes to the further development and investment needed for full commercialization, said Majumdar, echoing Shultz on the limits of government involvement. However, Majumdar said a new public-private partnership is urgently needed so that research is not done in isolation from the real world of business. Such a partnership would “coherently enable innovations to accelerate the transition to a clean and resilient economy faster than climate change.” People who oppose government support for individual companies often cite the failed solar panel start-up Solyndra, which went bankrupt after receiving a $535 million loan guaranteed by a Department of Energy program. But that program in total has been a success, said Dan Reicher, executive director of Stanford’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy & Finance.
“Everybody talks about Solyndra instead of Tesla, which started with $400 million loan from the program, which it paid back in full 10 years early,” said Reicher. “One challenge for the next president will be to reinvigorate this loan guarantee program.”