Clean Tech--The First 100 Days

New York City-The first 100 days of the Obama Administration have not been as jam packed with legislative action as those of the Roosevelt Administration which saw a bank holiday, a major farm bill, the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Glass Steagal Act among major initiatives. But they've been remarkable. In its first 100 days the Administration has worked with smooth dispatch to repair the raft of problems it inherited from its disfunctional predecessor. In clean technology the major accomplishment has been the huge investments in grid modernization, energy efficiency, renewable energy and clean infrastructure contained in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In normal circumstances those investments would be considered energy policy milestones. In the current environment at a moment when America finds itselves at a crossroads between an old and a new economy, they represent only a beginning. If America is serious about building a low carbon, high productivity economy, far more needs to be done to modernize our energy infrastructure, drive research and development in energy technology and ultimately lower the carbon intensity of the economy. This race is properly speaking a marathon. Three broad things are necessary to lay the groundwork for a clean economy-wide transformation. First, the social costs of carbon emissions need to be globally internalized in the price of carbon. The most promising regulatory approach is a globally harmonized cap and market system such as that in place in Europe and proposed by Chairman Waxman and Chairman Markey. The Administration supports this approach but has room to engage more forcefully, particularly once the legislation is taken up in the Senate. Second, technology must advance in order to bring the cost of low carbon energy sources below that of their high carbon alternatives. The President signaled his determination to double R&D spending last week over 10 years. But the hard legislative work must still take place to make this a reality. Third, a new regulatory structure must be established--particularly with respect to electricity but also with respect to transportation --that unlocks the power of clean technology--by opening up the grid and by altering transportation funding to end the preference for road over rail. This is a complex, but critical step--that more and more people are beginning to discuss. In short, in its first 100 days, the Administration has made a good start. But the marathon is only beginning.