Expect Obama to double down on energy boondoggles

Christopher Horner Senior Fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute
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Isn’t one ethanol disaster enough?

Sadly, that notorious boondoggle of $7 billion in direct subsidies per year (and growing), with knock-on costs of higher energy and food prices, escaped the Republicans’ claimed austerity push even as the administration jacked up the folly to force more ethanol into less gasoline. With constituencies sufficiently fattened by the pork, ethanol has become a terminal condition for our economy.

Now, in tonight’s State of the Union address and for the third year in a row, President Barack Obama will call for adding to the annual burden by a factor of ten to twenty. Remember, one of his campaign’s money lines was “we are going to spend billions of dollars on solar, wind, and biodiesel.” Yes, it’s criminal that we haven’t done that yet. I mean, except for the billions already spent. Ignore that. Isn’t it time we began investing in…

He will no doubt repeat verbatim his now-annual call to “finally make clean energy” — as the politicians define it — “the profitable kind.” Parse that statement.

This will come with rhetorical flourishes along the lines of finally taking the energy challenge seriously, which, as Daily Show-produced montages reveal, has been standard fare for decades.

More risibly, he will again call windmills and solar panels “new technology” and “the energy of the future.” Wind-powered electricity was commercialized in 1891. Solar cell technology was patented in 1888; the modern solar cell was invented in 1954. These aren’t “new” or “of the future.” They are simply failed technologies that exist only because of the government handouts they receive.

They received $90 billion in failed “stimulus” welfare to kick their demise down the road a year. Despite that, many recipients went under. This was predictable, and indeed predicted. And it will continue to be that way.

Politicians are notoriously slow learners. This is for the simple fact that you can’t reason someone out of a position arrived at for considerations other than reason. Politics, emotion, ideology and sheer calculation, which drive such schemes, are unassailable by reason.

Saturday’s Wall Street Journal offered further evidence of all of this with a lead story about Obama’s “jobs” push. “A White House official said Mr. Obama’s conception of competitiveness goes beyond stripping away onerous rules and envisions stepping in where the market fails. The official said areas such as renewable energy and scientific research are underfunded by the private sector, because returns are uncertain. These areas are vital to the nation’s long-term growth, the official said, and the state must step in when businesses don’t.”

The same can be said about voice-operated cheese graters, gravel-flecked tissue paper and, well, ethanol. He is simply calling for more of what he once called “stimulus” — debt-funded, inefficient and costly make-work that will haunt our economy for a generation. He has learned nothing. It’s incredible that he’s still uttering this sort of pap.

Ah, but there’s a hook to keep the public from thinking too hard about things: “The White House calculates that there is enough public anxiety about the U.S. slipping in competition with China, India and other emerging nations that voters could rally behind calls for investing in future growth.” Uh oh, did he say China will beat us at something? Okay, okay!

There’s no space to debunk the China mythology here, and it’s already been done. The same is true of Germany, which he likely will again cite as his other supposed success story (hey, what happened to Spain?). Just ask yourself, why is Germany so anomalous? Why aren’t the French, Italians and Swiss doing the same thing?

Germany is simply a country that has already made this mistake, leaving it a bubble waiting to burst like Obama’s previous examples (think: Spain), but only hanging around because the state is pouring taxpayer money into the renewable energy market to keep it inflated.

President Obama has offered ample evidence that he wants to turn America into a European-style social democracy, but without bothering to see (or else not caring) what impacts this has had on Europe.

I know he will call on Congress to go along with his plans to “finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy for American businesses and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” because that’s what he said in his September 2009 UN “global warming” speech and in his 2010 State of the Union speech, and originally he rolled out the very same formulation in his first address to Congress.

Wind and solar binges have not reduced greenhouse gases anywhere, let alone dramatically. So that’s insulting salesmanship. But the key word there is “profitable.” Not “cost-effective” or “economical,” because of course the state cannot make something cost-effective or economical. It can, however, make something profitable.

This is corporate welfare. These mandates and subsidies will add value to the investment portfolios of Government Electric and other leading lights of the Left, but distilled, it ultimately means raising the cost of all traditional sources of energy — which, as we have heard him say, is his intention.

“Clean energy” schemes are half about making everything else so expensive as to give life to what is uneconomical, and half about giving taxpayer money to backers of such projects so as to hide their real cost.

For someone who pitched himself as an outsider determined to bring revelatory change to our national politics, Obama’s prescriptions sure sound like tired, old, inside-the-Beltway nostrums — foretelling impending disaster that only various governmental interventions in the economy can mitigate.

Christopher Horner is a senior fellow at The Competitive Enterprise Institute.