Ashwin Madia, the Dem nominee for the open congressional seat in the suburban 3rd Congressional District, gave a presentation on the green energy issue Monday at the Humphrey Institute. The Humphrey’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance will have all three 3rd District contenders this week for solo, substantive talks on a subject of each candidate’s choice.
Madia made a strong a presentation of a case that most candidates seem to be pitching this year: That U.S. overconsumption of oil and other carbon-based fuels, and overreliance on foreign sources for it, is hurting the environment (global warming which, for some reason, we are all supposed to now call “global climate change”), the U.S. economy (Madia said half of the U.S. $700 billion trade deficit is represented by the purchase of foreign oil) and U.S. national security (the oil boom strengthens many nations that don’t like America very much).
On the last point, quoting columnist Tom Friedman, Madia said, “we are funding both sides in the war on terror.”
The solution, you guessed it, various government initiatives, mostly tax incentives, to promote the development of solar, wind, ethanol and other renewable energy sources, plus mass transit and cars that can run on electricity.
In what is a widely used pitch for what is portrayed as a win-win-win-win and several more wins idea, Madia said that progress on clean new energy sources will not only mitigate the triple threat (as above) represented by overreliance on foreign oil, but also can spur a sustainable economic boom by making the exporter of these new technologies to the world.
A favorite quote
Madia, who has always impressed me as a speaker, showed mastery of the facts and arguments, which he laid out via a PowerPoint presentation. My personal favorite slide, which Madia didn’t actually mention, was a quote from early 20th century writer/activist Upton Sinclair that went like this: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon not understanding it.” (I suppose someone should alert Madia that Sinclair was a socialist, but it would be a shame to lose such a great quote, with so many applications.)
During a question-and-answer session, led by Humphrey Institute polysci guru Larry Jacobs, Madia continued to impress with the depth of his vocabulary and understanding on energy issues (many of which, I confess, were over my head). He said carbon sequestration technology is feasible and promising. He endorsed the cap-and-trade approach to limiting greenhouse gases. He said he “probably” would not favor government price controls in the energy field, that additional drilling for offshore oil might be part of the overall solution but not on a carte blanche basis that he accuses some Republicans of advocating. He said he was open to some nuclear energy as part (but not a big part) of the picture, then listed many impediments to a resurgence of nuke power plants in the United States.
For me, the weakest part of Madia’s presentation was his failure to identify any costs that ordinary Americans might have to bear to make his green energy vision come true. More mass transit? Yes, Madia said, but not at the cost or more roads for cars. Increase the federal tax on gas to pay for the subsidies for green technology or to make alternative energy more cost competitive? “I don’t think we’re there,” Madia said. All of his ideas, he said, can be paid for by ending tax breaks given to the oil companies, by repealing tax breaks for companies that move U.S. jobs overseas, by ending the Iraq war, by giving the federal government authority to negotiate Medicare drug prices and by painless efficiencies in health care (“electronic medical records”) that will save tens of billions.
Maybe so. I don’t know enough about those miraculous electronic medical records and Madia, like almost every candidate, denounces the ballooning national debt. When asked explicitly what sacrifices ordinary, non-corporate citizens might have to make, either to balance the budget or to foster the green energy revolution that will improve all of our lives and save the planet, he said pretty much what Barack Obama said to a similar question during the second presidential debate:
Madia (and Obama) will ask Americans to conserve energy, maybe by driving less, and to recycle more. To me, that’s not imposing sacrifice unless you’re prepared to mandate changes that people don’t want to make. Maybe it’s some secret Calvinist gene, but I do get nervous when anyone offers to sell me something for nothing.
Erik Paulsen, Madia’s Repub opponent, will speak at the Humphrey at noon today on a subject of his choosing that he had not yet disclosed as of Monday noon.