10/31/2011 05:29 pm ET Updated Dec 31, 2011

Super Committee Should Make Energy an Economic Treat for the US

Today, most advanced economies and many emerging ones, including China, Brazil and India are pulling out the stops to claim a large share of the $2.3 trillion global clean energy market. American companies can compete in virtually any sector of the economy if we put our minds, policies and resources toward that goal. For the sake of our economic future, we should be aggressively pursuing the development and deployment of clean energy technology, even in this era of austerity.

Rather than focus on the economic opportunity, however, a substantial number of Members of Congress are instead doing their best to kill the emerging clean energy sector in the United States. We at Third Way are avowed deficit hawks. The federal government must cut spending to get its budget in order and for the economy to grow. But we must reduce the deficit in a way that helps encourage private sector growth, not retard it.

Every industry is going to have to reduce its reliance on the federal government. This should be done, however, in an orderly fashion that prioritizes what's best for America's long-term economic outlook. That is why Third Way proposed in its plan to trim the deficit by $1.2 trillion that the super committee should focus first on reducing government incentives to established, profitable industries and sectors that have other clear national policies that provide market certainty and help drive demand. As one example, the ethanol industry already benefits from a renewable fuels standard that ensures a national market for its product -- something the renewable energy industry does not have. These and other cuts in spending on established energy industries would produce approximately $48 billion in savings over 10 years.

What we can't afford are doctrinaire political attacks on every safeguard that protects America's water, air, and wildlife. Putting aside the moral or public health rationales for regulation, gutting environmental protections makes no sense economically. Yes, there is a need to reform those mandates that do not work or are more costly than intended when they were created. Complying with regulations by minimizing or properly containing pollutants at the source, however, is almost always less expensive than anticipated. Conversely, cleaning up pollution after the fact is usually far more expensive for industry and the American taxpayer. Would EPA need such a large budget for Superfund site cleanup each year if better regulations were in place to help ensure that waste was disposed of properly in the first place? Talk about savings!

Let's just hope that members of the super committee are keeping one eye on how smart budget cuts can help grow the economy. The deficit needs to be reined in and reined in now. But misguided attempts to act out anti-regulatory talking points or cut the legs out from under promising new sectors will have unintended economic consequences we could be regretting far beyond the time the super committee is relegated to dusty history books.