Muro and Jenkins discuss post-partisan energy policy proposal

Can Congress come to a post-partisan agreement on energy policy? In a new report, the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution and the Breakthrough Institute team up to propose a set of guidelines for a workable energy policy. During today's OnPoint, Mark Muro, senior fellow and director of policy for the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, and Jesse Jenkins, director of energy and climate policy at the Breakthrough Institute, discuss the report's recommendations and give their take on where the discussion on climate policy stands.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today are Mark Muro, senior fellow and director of policy for the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, and Jesse Jenkins, director of energy and climate policy at the Breakthrough Institute. Mark and Jesse are both contributors to a new report on post-partisan energy policy. Thank you both for being here.

Mark Muro: Thanks.

Jesse Jenkins: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Mark, climate and energy policy are at a standstill here in the U.S. Many argue that it's time to reassess our direction on climate. Does the Senate's failure this year mark the end of cap and trade? Would you consider cap and trade dead?

Mark Muro: It may not be dead, but it's not going anywhere anytime soon and we really don't have time to put climate and energy issues on hold for three, four years. So, our effort is to try to sketch out an array of what we think are doable things in the meantime that people of a variety of political starting points could embrace and that would make a difference for climate and energy issues.

Monica Trauzzi: So Jesse, talk a bit about this partnership on the report between AEI, Brookings, and the Breakthrough Institute. Is it an example of this post-partisan approach that you're trying to get at in the report?

Jesse Jenkins: Yeah, I mean with the current politicized environment it's actually hard -- you forget how much that reasonable people can actually agree on when you sit down and talk about actual details. So we worked for really over more than a year with scholars from both Brookings, Breakthrough Institute and the American Enterprise Institute to really get down to what are the things that we can really situate solidly within a real bipartisan history of American technology leadership and investment and how do we bring those sort of ideas to bear on the energy and climate challenges that we face, whether it's the national security concerns that arise from our dependence on oil, our economic vulnerability to oil price shocks, the public health concerns that are with us every day, as well as climate change. And what we came up with is it's really a four-part strategy to drive much greater investment in energy technology and innovation through a reformed and restructured energy innovation system that we think has a greater potential to make clean energy cheap and abundant in the United States and elsewhere.

Monica Trauzzi: So Mark, it seems like the big focus here is on R&D for new technology, developing new technologies, but can a problem of this enormity be solved just through research? Don't we need to have some clear signal from the government, a cap on emissions? Don't we need some numbers, some targets?

Mark Muro: Well, absolutely. We need clear signals. Targets can work in all sorts of ways and in no way are we saying this is a comprehensive solution to -- you know, it is obviously one of the most wicked complicated problems mankind has ever faced. Our effort here is to locate some things that we think that resonate with a moment of economic crisis. There's a hunger for getting the country moving again in economic terms and we think that would matter a lot and will have to be part of any comprehensive solution. So let's not set aside comprehensive -- you know, let's not set aside the entire movement on any of these issues now. We have to start moving.

Monica Trauzzi: So you're suggesting that this is something Congress could pick up in January and try to move?

Mark Muro: Many of these ideas, we think, are very well suited for convergence across the parties. Clearly, it's a very, very partisan time. Who knows, but I think that these ideas are available. These are some of the more accessible and popular ideas that are in the energy discourse. Let's give them a look here.

Monica Trauzzi: So Jesse, this proposal is touting this post-partisan approach. But is it forcing the government to choose winners and losers when it comes to technology?

Jesse Jenkins: No, the reality is the current energy system we have picks winners. It picks today's technologies, because we have an established infrastructure. We have a number of mature technologies. We basically use 19th-century energy technologies for both powering our vehicles and our electricity system. And the challenge is bringing us forward into the 21st century with new technologies that are locked out of the current market today because these technologies are very mature, low cost and have a built infrastructure and regulatory framework. So what this strategy is about is about driving forward a set of new technologies so that they are allowed the chance to mature and replacing our current hodgepodge of energy subsidies with a strategy that actually is disciplined towards driving cost reductions of these technologies as they scale up. What will ultimately decide between winners and losers is whether these technologies over time can become competitive without ongoing subsidy. We can't afford to create permanently subsidized industries, so the goal here is to give emerging and maturing technologies time to improve in price so that they become competitive without ongoing subsidy. And that will be the arbiter of success for which technologies prove out in the end.

Monica Trauzzi: Mark, this idea of putting more money behind new technologies is not a new one. So what's fresh here? What's the new approach that you guys are presenting?

Mark Muro: Well, for one, clearly it's true these things -- this agenda is -- I think it's the strength of this agenda that elements of it have been around a while. Now, in terms of energy innovation and investment in R&D, what is new is some new formats for doing it. We are trying to be frank about the scale of the need. You know, we're talking about a significant expansion of the R&D investment levels in this country. But we're also talking about a rethinking of the format in which R&D is conducted. It can't be conducted through solely a series of individual siloed programs run through the isolated Department of Energy laboratory system. We've got to do this research in proximity to the market, in partnerships that put together, you know, our corporate interest and their laboratories, public laboratories and university research. Place that together, get it in the context of regional innovation clusters and America's strong economic regions. That's a recipe for not only making breakthroughs, but getting them scaled up rapidly into the private economy. And this is an economic agenda.

Monica Trauzzi: I'm curious to hear what some of the main points of contention and compromise were as you were putting this report together.

Mark Muro: I think there was relatively -- to some extent this convergence was not that difficult. I think we did agree to bracket a number of issues that maybe we don't agree on that are differing -- among this group there are differing positions on cap and trade, differing positions on how we pay for it. You know, we've tried to provide an array of possible pay fors. We don't agree completely on the emphasis among them, but we think that these are things that we could live with. So it really wasn't as difficult as one can imagine. I think many things have gotten very difficult in the very fraught, you know, polarized atmosphere in this town. And I think we're just trying to reset that a little bit and let's look at some things that are broadly sensible and practical and see if we can restart momentum here. Because otherwise we're going to lose momentum.

Monica Trauzzi: So Jesse, talking about the polarized nature of this town, do you think that a proposal like this, you know, brings in some of those folks who were staunchly opposed to cap and trade?

Jesse Jenkins: Yeah, I mean just start with scholars in the American Enterprise Institute. Amongst our group of co-authors, they have very different positions about really the scale of the threat posed by climate change. And, therefore, if we're talking about climate policy I think you're going to have the whole set of different -- different sets of outcomes about how much we think we need to do about it. But together we all recognize that there are a whole set of other issues beyond climate change that really compel us to transform our energy system into a cleaner, safer, more secure energy system. And so building a proposal around that sort of sense of combined purpose and bracketing some of those concerns about climate and taking the steps forward that we need to take regardless and need to take soon is a way I think we can bring in and really start a new conversation with a whole new set of people. And I think that's going to be critical in the coming years to moving anything forward on clean energy or otherwise.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it there. Thank you both for coming on the show.

Jesse Jenkins: Thank you.

Mark Muro: Great, thank you, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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