by Jamie Van Nostrand

A comprehensive energy and climate bill, including a cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions, is dead for the foreseeable future. Ryan Lizza’s article in the October 6 issues of The New Yorker, “As the World Burns,” tells the complete story of how the White House and the Senate dropped the ball when they had a chance to enact a comprehensive energy and climate bill in 2009, and instead turned the focus instead to fumbling for nearly a year on health care reform. Daniel J. Weiss of the Center for American Progress tells a similar account in “Anatomy of a Senate Climate Bill Death.” The question now is where do we go from here? Given the Republican gains that seem all but inevitable on November 2, there is virtually no chance for “putting a price on carbon” — through either cap and trade or a carbon tax — any time before 2013. Meanwhile, as David Leonhardt points out in today’s NY Times, “[t]his year is on pace to tie 2005 as the warmest on record . . . and the 10 hottest years have all occurred since 1998.”

We have to find a different way to stimulate the clean energy revolution in the United States. A new report issued today by the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute (institutions that do not agree on many things) proposes a four-part energy framework that would spend up to $25 billion annually on investments in clean energy, and doing so without adding to the national debt. Among other things, the framework would de-politicize the process of awarding subsidies and incentives (yes, those presidential hopefuls would no longer have to kiss that ethanol baby in Iowa every 4 years) and use a new strategy of competitive deployment incentives designed to drive steady improvements in the price and performance of clean energy technologies. The proposal also suggests recognizing the potential for nuclear power (particularly innovative, smaller reactor designs), which will likely engender some opposition (but not from this writer). Where would the money come from? How about phasing out unproductive energy subsidies, or directing some revenues from oil and gas leasing to energy innovation, for a start. Maybe a small fee on imported oil, or a very low price on carbon ($4-5 per ton of CO2), with the revenues dedicated to finance the necessary investments in clean energy technology.

While cap and trade may be dead, it hasn’t seemed to have stopped the planet from continuing to burn up. Let’s have some leadership in Washington, for a change, and move down a different path.