US Economic Recovery Endangered by Paralyzed Senate

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We Can Lead is posting a ticker on its website showing how the US is falling behind the world at the rate of $260 million per day in private investment in clean energy.  This is due to the lack of climate legislation from the Senate putting a price on carbon. If there is no legislative push from behind, there is no real reason to end the procrastination against switching from dirty energy.


The House passed a climate bill in this session (ACES), but would have to start over next year from scratch to pass a new one to coordinate with any Senate bill in the next session. But with the typical mid term swing away from the party in power, the Senate Democrats will not likely top the filibuster-proof hurdle of 60, (held briefly for a few months in 2009 after Franken was finally sworn in, and before Kennedy was hospitalized).

So utilities, for one, are holding onto cash until or if climate legislation with a price on carbon emissions is ever passed in this country, allowing their inventory of aging coal power plants to grow ever more decrepit.

A Peterson Institute study found that annual investments in the electricity sector would go up 50 percent within ten years if a cap on carbon was passed.

Partly that jump would be enhanced during this recession because both labor and capital are underemployed now, so a policy that would spur new investment in the private sector in clean energy would create more jobs rather than simply taking them from other sectors, as it would if the economy was doing fine.

It is not that the electric utilities will only move if pushed from behind, but the economics are completely different with or without a price on carbon, which makes returns too uncertain to get financing now, when it is possible that your competitors will wait till a price is placed on carbon (at which time they would be able to get a better deal from the bank who sees that clean energy is a much better investment – with the hitherto hidden cost of carbon factored in – than dirty energy).

Why is our democracy paralyzed? It is not just that today’s Republican party wants to paralyze action. It is that they can. Because of the abuse of the filibuster, 41 senators representing less than 11 percent of the nation’s population can, in principle, block action supported by 59 senators representing more than 89 percent of our population.

The rural states with the fewest people (and just a fossil energy industry in the state; think Alaska, Wyoming, the Dakotas) get equal time with the urban states with the most people (employed in a wide variety of industries).

When our republic was created, the population ratio between the largest and smallest state was not all that extreme – just 13 to 1.

Back then, it seemed reasonable that small states should get equal representation.

But now, the ratio is 68 to 1. The minority party in a state with just a couple thousand voters can effectively disenfranchise the vast majority of Americans. The tyranny of a few, representing one industry, is hardly what the framers had in mind.

Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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8 thoughts on “US Economic Recovery Endangered by Paralyzed Senate

  • You make a good point about how representation in the Senate is over-empowering a small percentage of people. However, the basic principle of rich people controlling the country will not change as long as there is money to collect along the path of moving goods and services to the consumer. It’s a pattern started way back with huge land grants for the railroads.

    With solar panels and this new gadget called the bloom box, the procurement of electricity should and can be decentralized. We don’t need to pay a tycoon to reap the benefit of thoughtful scientists. Whenever I hear about “investment” in alternative energy, I envision more and more parasitic people trying their best to not have to work with dignity. There is economy of scale, and there are richly deserving people who have made our lives so much better. (Tesla was left out) But humans have behavior patterns, and this has still not changed.

  • like everything else.

    what a disgrace of a democracy we’ve landed in

  • Susan:

    If the Senate was 58 Republicans and 42 Democrats and the Minority party was protecting its interests (via Filibuster (say on Abortion rights or some other issue) would you say that the Filibuster was being abused??? I doubt it. Its a matter of context Susan, your comments on the Energy issues are valid, but your feelings on politics are getting a bit too personal.

    I would not say Democracy is being paralyzed (even though I have a vested interest in expansion of renewables) by Republican filibuster. I would say the Republicans are using the filibuster to ensure that the interests of the so called Minority populations are protected (yes Alaska, ND and Wyoming people are citizens and they deserve protection at the table). A filibuster whether used by the Republicans or Democrats tends to ensure Moderate Centralist policies that tend to protect and ensure one party does not go too far left or too far right. The filibuster also ensures that we move in sequential steps for change.

    Hugh Hewitt (I’m sure you would not like his views) stated the following this morning on his web page:

    “I believe that there is a deep, deep disconnect between the elites and the mainstream, and the anger that is surging on both sides of the divide grows out of the sense that majorities are being trampled on. Left-wing activists point at the Senate and argue that a minority of Republican senators is blocking the majority’s will. Center-right activists applaud those Republicans as representatives of the genuine mainstream and point to the votes and polls noted above and argue that the current Congressional majorities are false positives, unrepresentative of where the country truly is, delivered in large part by an Obama-awed MSM dominated by Journolistas moving in lock step to promote the left’s agenda.

    In fact we have –or ought to have– a system of mediated majorities, or Constitutional majoritarianism. It should take a while to push the country very far in one direction or the other. We are not built for rapid change, and big elections can be false positives, as 2008 increasingly appears to have been.”

    He has a lot of wisdom in this part of his statement today, most note worthy on other issues but applicable to the Energy scene. The key point that he states and I agree upon as it fits energy issues is: “We are not built for rapid change”. Tales of doom and gloom don’t flow well in the populace who have little trust in those delivering the message (i.e congress). Susan its not the message it’s who is delivering it and the way they are saying it. Demonization by Congress and the press on contrarion opinions or feelings further erodes trust. When you question the messager and he shoots you down indicating he knows better (which has happened from many members of Congress recently on many issues)one tends to get turned off by the message and ones lack of trust increases. My comments to you and Zach in the past about incremental changes in Energy legislation are heart felt because of some of the issues I bring up above. Address specific issues (renewable RPS etc.) separately and gauge effectiveness along the way. Ease it in, use rebates and Tax breaks to encourage (not Tax increases) and engage the people one on one not talking down to them and the people will be more in tuned to accept.

    • If the Democrats filibustered every bill like this, I would say that was abuse too.

      But when Democrats were in the minority they mostly sucked it up and let things come to the floor for an up or down vote. (One of the few times they didn’t, they were trying to stop Alito and Roberts get on the Supreme Court because they feared they would be too corporate-friendly.)

  • “the US is falling behind the world at the rate of $260 million per day in private investment in clean energy. This is due to the lack of climate legislation from the Senate”

    Where in any of the legislation does it force the private sector to invest their client’s money into clean technology?

    Was Kleiner, First Reserve, Hudson, Technology Partners notified about this?

    The legislation shifts economics by accounting for externalities. But no where does it “require” investment. China can “out-invest” us because of that whole central command Communist part where they do whatever they want. In America, generally, investors have to first find something economical before investing. The point is, unless you have a central command, the best way to entice investments is to improve on the economics. Hence, R&D, and angel stage investors.

    • @Brett: I meant private investment, though I agree that govt investment in China far outdoes ours too. China and the rest of the world that has climate legislation in place gets more PRIVATE investment from VCs like these. We are falling behind in PRIVATE VC funding for want of climate legislation putting a price on carbon.

  • Here another 25 cents on the topic:

    Instead of inaction and bickering at public expense, Congress could adopt National security and energy choice objectives, and phased-in CARBON PRICING, in lieu of stealth subsidies, arcane financial tools, and industry loopholes.

    Pricing could be in the form of a published National carbon tax schedule with phased-in annual rates (say at 2% of typical 2010 prices, beginning in 2014), projected to (say 2030, with small annual percent increases, say +3%/year plus a CPI adjustment). This would apply to all coal, gas, and petroleum used to produce fuel, electricity, and other energy supplies.

    CARBON PRICING accompanied by a FINANCIAL TRANSITION PROGRAM could promote orderly phase-in of economically beneficial, environmentally benign, clean energy sources and conversion technologies (whatever they may be, based on predictable investment economics, NOT unpredictable political edicts, or casino-like commodity market roulette) over the next 15 – 25 years.

    FINANCIAL TRANSITION should address “public good” measures, such as:

    a. PAYING CARBON TAX REBATES to USA citizens and legal residents who file income tax returns, and to social security recipients; using currently established IRS tools and regional adjustments (MT differs from NYC), say front funded quarterly to reduce the individual burden of carbon pricing;



    d. PAYING DOWN the National Debt.

    The CARBON PRICING schedule (and the related National energy objectives) should be first established by Congress, then transferred for day-to-day administration by a board of professional overseers and staff, similar to what is done by the FDA, NTSB, FAA, National Science Foundation, National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology, Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, etc. Congress must periodically hold oversight hearings to ensure focus and progress on achieving the adopted National energy objectives.

    Since the FINANCIAL TRANSITION PROGRAM distributes revenue, Congress should oversee all “public good” disbursements, hopefully excluding the Defense Department and warfare programs. This approach would allow our political leaders the opportunity to serve constituents, the real “We the People”, and to focus on expeditiously achieving the National energy objectives.

    If the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention could adopt the US Constitution in 1787, then the 535 serving in today’s Congress and the President should be capable taking prudent action to achieve 21st Century energy supplies and conversion technologies for the USA before China and others smother our economy.

  • Headlines need spell check too:

    ““US Economic Recovery ??Enangered?? by Paralyzed Senate”

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