Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) proposed “four grand principles” to guide the United States toward clean energy independence.
“We will likely have a cheap sustainable supply of energy if we let the free market work,” Alexander said in a floor speech Monday. “Cheaper and more reliable energy is in our grasp.”
Alexander said four basic principles could help “guide” the future of U.S. energy. He suggested that the United States promote cheaper not more expensive energy, such as natural gas, use clean not just renewable energy, such as nuclear, have research and development not government mandates, and allow the free market not government to pick winners and losers in the energy sector.
Some of that may sound good on the surface, but the devil’s in the details. For instance, in terms of “picking winners and losers in the energy sector,” we know that the government’s been doing just that for decades – overwhelmingly in favor of the fossil fuel industries. We also know that fossil fuels have access to financing vehicles, like Master Limited Partnerships, which provide them with yet another unfair, non-free-market advantage over clean energy. Finally, we know that fossil fuels are allowed to pollute the air and water without paying the true, fully internalized cost of that pollution. In economics, that’s known as a classic example of “market failure.”
Given all these examples of how, when it comes to the U.S. energy sector, we have anything but a “free market,” the question for Sen. Alexander is simple: Will he support the complete elimination of fossil fuel subsidies, tax breaks, and other subsidies to dirty energy? In addition, we wonder if Sen. Alexander will agree that fossil fuels should pay the pollution cleanup costs which we now shoulder. If not, it’s difficult if not impossible to understand how Sen. Alexander’s “grand principles” amount to any change in the skewed-towards-fossil-fuels status quo.