U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke Dec. 11 used the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen to tout the Obama administration's track record on clean energy, but stressed that ultimately solutions will be pioneered by the private sector.
"I am proud to say that since taking office, President Obama has already done more to mitigate climate change than any president in U.S. history," Locke told the delegates. "One of his first acts in office was to sign a Recovery Act that included $80 billion in clean energy investments that will help double America's renewable energy-generating capacity in three years, while creating thousands of good jobs."
Locke also said Obama announced the week of Nov. 30 that "the United States would commit to a 17 percent reduction of our greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 over 2005 levels and an 83 percent reduction by 2050."
In a wide-ranging speech, Locke told the delegates that innovative government policies alone would not stem the tide of global warming. Instead, he said, "a preeminent goal of government energy policies needs to be making it as easy as possible for private-sector people to develop new energy solutions and bring them to market.
"We have a long way to go."
Locke also said, "Perhaps the original idea for these innovations will come from a government research lab. But if history is any guide, the commercialization and real-world application of these technologies will be pioneered by private-sector innovators and entrepreneurs."
Locke said creating those financial incentives is "perhaps the most important feature of the comprehensive energy and climate legislation supported by President Obama and recently passed by our U.S. House of Representatives." The legislation "features a market-based cap on carbon pollution that will send a surefire market signal to every entrepreneur and business in America that it's safe and profitable to make long-term investments in clean energy," he said.
"Unsurprisingly, there are naysayers who claim, without any substantive evidence, that a market-based cap on carbon emissions will usher in economic Armageddon," Locke continued "But these claims are unconvincing, because we have seen similar assertions debunked in an eerily similar version of our current energy debate."
Earlier, he remarked, "To start, we need to rethink a variety of harmful incentives that actively work against clean energy development."
As an example of "wrongheaded" policy, Locke said, "too many countries subsidize both the production and consumption of fossil fuels." He argued, "We simply must eliminate financial incentives that work against clean energy and efficiency, and begin creating new ones that promote it."
Locke noted that in the 1990s, "the United States began considering a market-based approach to curb acid rain pollutants" with opponents estimating that "compliance would cost business $50 billion a year and lead to sky high utility bills." However, as it turned out, "addressing acid rain ended up costing less than 5 percent of industry's estimate" and consumer electricity rates-adjusted for inflation-"actually declined by almost 20 percent over the next decade and a half," he said.
"The message here is simple: When you get the incentives right, the private sector can respond with solutions that are both more effective and more affordable than anyone would have imagined," Locke said.