Forty years ago today, Americans sat transfixed in front of televisions sets watching the first landing on the Moon. We had just won the space race, meeting a technological and political challenge issued by President Kennedy a mere eight years earlier. It was, in Armstrong's words, "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
A few weeks ago, the House of Representatives took a giant legislative leap in America's historic effort to win the next great technological revolution: the clean energy race of the 21st century. This race is more important for America to win (and, thankfully, easier).
On June 26th, the House passed the first comprehensive clean energy and climate bill in our nation's history--the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act. The bill would--for the first time--set domestic limits on the carbon pollution that causes global warming, establish ambitious policies for the development and deployment of clean energy and efficiency, and invest nearly $200 billion in the next fifteen years to make America once again the leader, not the laggard, in energy technology.
We were first in flight on the beaches of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. We raced the Axis in World War II to create an atom bomb, and we won that war. We were first to develop the transistor and the computer, inventions that married modernity with velocity.
Yet, largely because of the misguided policies of the previous decade, America is in grave danger of losing the clean energy race.
• Of the top 30 clean energy companies in the world, only six are American.
• Portugal, Spain, and Denmark produce 9 percent, 12 percent, and 21 percent of their electricity from wind, respectively. America produces about 1 percent.
Russia was our singular competitor in the celestial contest. In this terrestrial endeavor, we have many. And here's the other problem: while these countries have already launched their clean energy Sputniks, America still argues with climate and clean energy skeptics.
Investing in R&D
The Waxman-Markey bill will help reverse troubling economic and environmental trends, by using the American technological development model of well-funded public research joined with motivated private investment. Call it a 'public-private-planetary partnership.'
We must start with research and development. In America, energy R&D has essentially taken a generation-long session of R&R.
Federal R&D is less than half what it was in the late 1970's. In 1980, 10 percent of federal research dollars went to energy; today, it is just 2 percent.
Meanwhile, private investment from U.S. energy companies has dwindled to less than one quarter of one percent of revenues in R&D. Talk about chopped liver -- that is lower than the dog food industry spends -- and is out of step with any industry remotely associated with innovation.
Waxman-Markey starts by investing nearly $200 billion through 2025 in clean energy and energy efficiency. It dedicates more than $6 billion to establish eight Clean Energy Innovation Hubs around the country, and creates a "Clean Energy Bank" that will leverage more than $75 billion in total capital for clean energy projects.
These policies will link inventors with investors, professors with producers, and get clean energy out of laboratories and into factories.
Because of these clean energy investments, and those from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Waxman-Markey bill actually helps exceed by more than 30 percent President Obama's 10-year target of investing $150 billion in clean energy, energy R&D, energy efficiency, and the American workforce.
The Telecommunication Path to Energy Success
I know from my experience in telecommunications that once we put the right policies in place, we will spark an explosion of energy innovation across our nation.
In the early to mid-nineties, Congress passed three important policies to spur innovation:
1) The 1992 Cable Act that created the satellite TV industry,
2) The 1993 Budget Act that triggered the digital transition in wireless,
3) And the capstone policy, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which pushed businesses into Darwinian technological competition.
Before the 1996 Telecom Act, not one home in America had broadband. After legislation changed the incentives, we quickly moved from narrowband to broadband, black rotary dial phones to Blackberries, landlines to firewires.
And because of these policies, in the ten-year period following these policy changes, more than $850 billion was invested by the private sector.
Now the international language of technology is Google, Yahoo!, YouTube, Amazon and Hulu. It is an American vocabulary. Our new goal should be that in less than a decade's time, American workers will export wind turbines and solar panels that say MADE IN AMERICA instead of the American economy importing millions of barrels of oil a day that say MADE BY OPEC.
We still have the opportunity to build an American-led clean energy future, created by this generation's legislative triptych:
1) In 2007, after the Democrats took back Congress, we passed the first increase in fuel economy standards in decades, and promoted the use of advanced renewable fuels.
2) Then, in the January 2009 Recovery Act, we invested over $60 billion in the clean energy infrastructure and technologies, laying the foundation for an American clean energy economy to flourish.
3) The capstone policy to unleash the clean energy revolution is Waxman-Markey, the first comprehensive clean energy and climate bill in history.
These three policies will precipitate a spike in private sector investment similar to the Internet and telecommunications boom. Only it will be much, much bigger.
Bigger Market, Bigger Challenge
The energy sector is 4 times larger than the telecommunications sector. It is entirely reasonable to expect $1 trillion or much more in private capital investments once this new regulatory framework is put in place.
The changes in America's clean energy economy with be astronomically astounding. Advanced fuel efficient vehicles like plug-in hybrids cars and all-electric trucks will mean the next generation of drivers may never use a gas pump. We will build an electricity Internet Smart Grid that will use E-Chips--electricity computer chips--in appliances, homes and businesses. And we'll use wind, solar, and even tidal energy, powered by the gravity of the moon, to fuel our future.
The clean energy race is the space race of our time. Yet so much more is at stake.
Just as we rocketed past the bounds of gravity, we must bring soaring temperatures from global warming back to normal. Scientists say global warming is a man-made problem; clean energy will be the American-made solution.
The Waxman-Markey bill addresses the technological imperative to lead on clean energy, the economic imperative to compete in a global race, and the moral imperative to protect our planet. Waxman-Markey has the ambition of the moon landing, the moral imperative of the Civil Rights Act, and the scope of the Clean Air Act, all wrapped up in one.
I urge all Americans, on this anniversary of the greatest technological achievement in history, to join together to produce an even greater achievement: creating a safe, prosperous, clean energy future that will preserve our planet and grow our economy for generations to come.
Follow Sen. Ed Markey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SenMarkey