Third Way Perspectives
Archive for September, 2013
Remarks Prepared for Delivery by Bernard L. Schwartz at Third Way & The Atlantic’s Infrastructure 2.0 Panel
September 30th, 2013
The Case for Infrastructure
Before we dug the Erie Canal, it cost $120 to ship one ton of flour from Buffalo to New York City. After its construction, it cost $6. Because of that investment, business boomed, consumers lived better, and prices for products dropped.
That was almost 200 years ago, and the lesson hasn’t changed. Our national investment in the Grand Coulee Dam created millions of acres of arable land, whose wealth to our country cannot be estimated. There is an unshakeable bond that links infrastructure to economic growth and to better lives for people. That is the story of America’s economic success and the creation of the greatest middle class in the world.
So why have we stopped investing? Why have we forgotten what made America and the middle class great?
Nothing would do more to put America back to work in good, long-term jobs than infrastructure investment. Nothing would be better for our long-term economy than making investments in better ports, roads, transmission wires, rail, and broadband so that we can move people, products, power, and ideas better, faster, and cheaper than the rest of the world.
And there is no better time to invest than now. Capital is available and cheap. The need is great. And the workforce is waiting.
September 23rd, 2013
There has been a lot of overheated political rhetoric from the right and the left about the EPA’s emissions standards for new power plants. If you strip that away, however, you’ll find that the new rule is really codifying what’s already happening in the utility sector. Thanks in part to the lower emissions and lower cost of natural gas, this is already benefiting public health, the environment, and the economy.
The bottom line is that for all of the build-up about the new standards, energy sector insiders know that low natural gas prices, the growth of renewables, and little demand growth are already reshaping electric generation. As an AEP spokeswoman acknowledged on September 20 in National Journal, “We have no current plans to build any new coal-fueled power plants both because we don’t need additional generation, and it would be difficult to make an economic case for coal with today’s low natural-gas prices.” The new regulations marry these market trends with intensive stakeholder input from the private sector. The result is a clear roadmap for new electricity generation in the United States.
While administrative actions never carry the democratic appeal of a Congressionally mandated solution, Congress has been unable to agree on a path forward. The Supreme Court required the EPA act, and the regulatory revamping was inevitable.
It would be great if Congress could develop and pass bipartisan legislation to accomplish the same goals as the EPA. That’s extremely unlikely in the current political environment. There’s a lot Congress could do—that’s bipartisan and does not cost much if anything—to create new opportunities in coal states and to ensure we maintain fuel diversity in our electricity fleet. This includes helping the private sector accelerating the development of carbon capture and storage technologies and removing the regulatory uncertainty that surrounds it.
Remember, even the EPA’s new source regulatory decision had to be court-ordered. The regulatory uncertainty for utilities has been a killer, most will tell you, and the business climate has suffered. This is a step forward, both for the environment and the business climate. It had to happen, and it finally did.
This piece was originally published via National Journal.
September 20th, 2013
American clean energy advocates like to tout the latest European energy accomplishments as proof that the United States is falling behind. Clean energy provides 25 percent of Germany’s energy demand! Germany has the greatest share of wind and solar among the G20 countries!
These are important accomplishments, to be sure. But this rapid growth has come at a cost: the highest energy prices in Europe. Are there ways we can achieve the milestones that Germany has reached while avoiding the economic downside of high costs? A new report by the respected German newspaper Der Spiegel provides some hard truths, and a look at three important lessons for us in the United States:
September 20th, 2013
Now that Syria has ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, the international community’s focus is shifting to how to destroy the country’s stockpiles of chemical weapons. The choice is simple: either the slow and methodical approach stipulated by the treaty that could take up to 10 years or more, as it has in the U.S., Russia and other countries; or a faster, cheaper approach that has been used in other countries such as Iraq after the Gulf War.