Dan Brouillette, the current Secretary of Energy for the United States, told the IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit on July 9 that the US favors an “all of the above” strategy when it comes to formulating energy policies for the future. What that means, loosely translated, is the US opposes the push to make renewable energy the central focus of coronavirus economic recovery strategies.
Unlike most officials in the Trump maladministration, Brouillette is not a graduate of the faux think tanks promoted by Koch Industries and other fossil fuel advocates, but he still peddles the conservative line about how governments shouldn’t be picking winners and losers in the marketplace. Better to let Adam Smith’s unseen hand decide what is best, based solely on market forces.
Sadly, that approach does not take into account the negative impact that burning fossil fuels has on human health and the sustainability of the Earth’s environment. Since the economic engine of capitalism does not assign a value to waste products like carbon dioxide and fine particulate matter, the calculus is distorted to the point where it become meaningless.
Brouillette told the conference, “There is the top down government driven approach and there is the bottom up competition based alternative. I believe the bottom up approach is fully coherent with who we are as democratic societies and nations. My country is abandoning none of our fuels and not one iota of economic opportunity in the quest for a clean energy world. [We support] a bottom up energy philosophy which by regulating less lets us innovate more.”
The lie behind his statement is revealed, however, by research completed by The Guardian and Documented that reveals 5,600 fossil fuel companies stuck their hand into the government cookie jar to get up to $6.7 billion in COVID-19 emergency funds. Where is your jealously guarded bottom-up competition in that scenario, Mr. Secretary?
This administration has no problem talking out of both sides of its mouth at the same time as it pursues its “heads we win, tails you lose” policies. It is instructive that the Small Business Administration only released the information about which fossil fuel companies got government money as a result of a Freedom of Information suit filed by The Guardian.
Hannah McKinnon, director of Oil Change International, said “I bet there were a lot of eyes rolling [among the ministers at the conference]. It is incredibly rich and ironic for the US to say this.” Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said the world has experienced an unprecedented drop in carbon emissions, but the actions nations take in the next 6 months to encourage more renewable energy will be vital to locking in those emissions reductions. Recent polls show Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of more renewable energy.
Many nations, especially in Europe, have pledged to make clean energy a centerpiece of their economic recovery process. “I have not seen such strong momentum before, but that does not mean this momentum will be translated into real world action,” Birol told The Guardian.
Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, told the conference that countries should choose a green recovery for sound economic reasons, both because renewable energy is now cheaper than coal and because clean energy reduces air pollution which impacts human health and exacerbates global heating. He warned that twice as much recovery money has now been earmarked for fossil fuels than the amount allocated to low carbon electricity generation.
“Many have still not gotten the message [of the need for a green recovery],” Guterres added. “Some countries have used stimulus plans to prop up oil and gas companies that were already struggling financially. Others have chosen to jump start coal fired power plants that don’t make financial or environmental sense. The right decisions can put countries on a much safer and healthier footing.”
Melinda Pierce, Sierra Club legislative director, told The Guardian, “Federal aid should be going to help small businesses and front line workers struggling as the result of the pandemic, not the corporate polluters whose struggles are a result of longstanding failing business practices.”
Jesse Coleman, a researcher for Documented, was particularly disturbed that the government was handing out millions in emergency loans to fracking companies, who were already under severe pressure from falling demand and falling prices long before the coronovirus pandemic hit. “We should not be wasting taxpayer dollars on an industry that’s in a tailspin of its own making, especially when it seems intent on bringing the whole planet down with it.”
Someday, it would be interesting to give that “bottom up competition” idea a try, once all the costs of doing business are factored in, such as the economic costs of tens of thousands of Americans dying prematurely due to the effects of breathing polluted air. Until then, the “all fuels matter” approach is just a lie told to us by our government to disguise its support of activities that will make the Earth uninhabitable very soon.