Why, sometimes, I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
--Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There
Let’s see, where was I? I remember—I promised to describe A Republican Energy Efficiency Reinvestment Act (AREER); the beginning of an idea I thought would fit neatly within the policy parameters of the incoming administration.
The strength of the idea lies in its simplicity and compatibility with what President Trump seems best able to do: cajole private corporations to pony up money. In this instance for financing a national low-income weatherization fund.
I’m indifferent as to whether Trump cajoles, threatens, dares, squeezes or entices—just as long as he does it. Before you declare me delusional, hear me out.
My idea is not nearly as impossible nor indefensible as you might think. It is, in fact, good business and even better politics. It plays to the President-elect’s strengths, his flair for the dramatic and is consistent with what appears to be his management style.
I envision AREERA coming about more or less as it does in the following scenario---
Drawing on his knowledge and experience as a builder, the President confidently highlighted some of the fund’s economic benefits.
Aware of the connection between energy efficiency, renewable energy measures and the environment, Mr. Trump believes the fund will demonstrate his Administration’s support for sustainability. He also hoped his proposed efficiency fund and willingness to maintain the tax credits for renewables already on the books would demonstrate his personal commitment to an all-of-the-above energy policy.
Trump was quick to point out his plan helped Americans--not the crooked Chinese; and, he emphasized his approach wouldn’t be throwing coal miners out of work in the process.
The President was confident his plan would do more for the environment than the Clean Power Plan ever could and pledged to work with Congress to amend further the federal tax code to encourage private participation in AREERA.
The President concluded the meeting by saying he asked his daughter Ivanka to head the organizing effort and that he expected the fund to be up and running before the end of the year—even if funds were not fully committed.
Mr. Trump’s enthusiasm for the program and the positive outcome of the meeting was evidenced in his own brand of communication, as seen the copy of the Tweet he released immediately at the conclusion of the meeting.
Back from The Future
A national weatherization program of sufficient size has been wanting for years. Neither the need nor the benefits of a national efficiency retrofit project can be seriously disputed.
The closest the nation has come to actually making the required investment was the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA). The $5 billion of ARRA money for weatherization merely scratched the itch—it did not stop it. The Clean Power Plan offered the hope of big bucks from the sale of carbon credits—a hope likely now never to be realized.
Environmental justice for low-income and at-risk individuals has been delayed far too long. Should the above fiction become fact, President Trump will be right when he recites the many benefits of a $15 billion revolving energy efficiency fund.
Reliance on federal appropriations, utility investments and state budgets is risking the health and welfare of America’s underserved citizens and failing to capture the socio-economic benefits such a program carries with it. Could President Trump do what chief executives before him could not? I don’t know.
What I do know is that we should not dismiss out of hand Mr. Trump’s willingness or capacity to bring private and public forces to bear on a problem thought intractable.
Whatever you or I may think of him—or the deal he just cut with Carrier—the fact is 1,000 Hoosiers, who would otherwise have faced 2017 wondering how to feed their families, are resting a bit easier. The only way to find out if Mr. Trump is as good a businessman as he would have us believe is to propose plans he can understand and might support.
Next in the What Now Series
A successful national low-income weatherization program will improve the economics of community-power projects. Look for the next installment in the series when I will discuss the growth of distributed systems in The Age of Trump.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.