Despite an expected shift in energy and environmental priorities in the coming years, several key challenges present clear opportunities for bipartisan cooperation. Low oil prices have slowed improvements in vehicle efficiency, spurred record-high gasoline demand, and undermined core U.S. energy security and environmental goals. American cities and infrastructure are at risk from the challenges posed by a changing climate. And, America’s most abundant and scalable baseload energy resources need to be cheaper and cleaner.
In response, market-based reforms, infrastructure investments, and research and development are solutions that would allow us to both tackle climate and environmental ambitions and support economic growth. On March 27, EPIC and The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution co-hosted a forum exploring the best approaches to address these challenges.
The forum began with opening remarks by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, followed by a fireside chat with and three roundtable panel discussions on the future of energy research and development, market-based approaches to vehicle regulations, investing in resilient infrastructure, and the conservative case for carbon pricing.
The energy research and development panel featured John Deutch, a professor at MIT, James Connaughton, president and CEO of Nautilus Data Technologies and head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality for President George W. Bush, and Ellen D. Williams, a professor at the University of Maryland and former head of ARPA-E under President Obama.
One of the topics the panel explored was President Trump’s potential elimination of the ARPA-E program, the job of which he says should be done by the private sector. Of this, Williams said: “ARPA-E does not compete at a stage at which the private sector does R&D. ARPA-E is looking far-too-early stage at technologies that are very high risk, and allowing those technologies to compete kind of on an even playing field to move themselves forward on a pathway toward commercial assessment, allowing them—at the end of a finite period of funding—to reach the point where it’s possible to make an assessment about their potential to scale up and manufacturing and their potential for moving forward for commercialization.”
She continued, “If the United States does not have a pretty healthy ARPA-E program, we don’t have a sound energy-research and development program.”
The research and development panel was followed by a panel presenting a policy proposal on a market-based approach to vehicle regulations. The panel included two of the authors of the proposal, EPIC Director Michael Greenstone and Harvard Professor Cass Sunstein. To give different perspectives on the proposal, the panel also included Trevor Houser, a partner at the Rhodium Group, and David Schwietert, executive vice president at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Vox’s Brad Plumer moderated the panel.
During the panel, Greenstone explained that, “At the core of this proposal is the idea that the least cost way to get what you want is to directly target the thing you care about—not to target it as kind of a bank shot. If you treated every vehicle as though the only thing we cared about were greenhouse gases—whether they come from the grid or from filing up with gasoline—then that would be the most direct and least cost way to confront greenhouse gases in the transportation sector.”
The third panel of the day focused on investing in resilient infrastructure. It included Matthew Kahn, a professor at the University of Southern California, who wrote a policy proposal on the subject. The panel also included Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, Steven Strongin, head of global investment research at Goldman Sachs, and Alice Hill, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and former White House Senior Director for Resilience Policy.
Strongin encouraged the audience to think about infrastructure in a new way. He explained, “When you look at the kind of infrastructure investment we did in the 1950s, and to slightly think about how you re-anchor, instead of anchor, neighborhoods and communities, you begin to think about how do you string wire, build sewer systems. How do you create skeletons of tomorrow’s communities so that individuals can actually move into them?”
To end the day, Bloomberg reporter Jennifer Dlouhy moderated a discussion with Ted Halstead, the founder, president and CEO of the Climate Leadership Council.
Halstead joined a group of conservatives in calling for a carbon price earlier this year. He explained the conservative case for such a policy, and said that “Nobody has put forth a conservative, market-based, concrete climate plan before. So when you do and when it meets the conservative test, there’s actually a surprising amount of open-mindedness that we’re finding.”
To learn more: View the presentation slides and photographs from the forum; or read the new policy proposals on “The Next Generation of Transportation Policy,” “Protecting Urban Places and Populations from Rising Climate Risk,” and “Twelve Economic Facts on Energy and Climate Change.”