Activism, Environment, Spotlight

I Was Invited to Testify on Energy Policy. Then Democrats Didn’t Let Me Speak

Today, shortly after giving expert testimony to Congress about energy policy, I had the startling experience of being smeared by sitting members of the United States House of Representatives.

The context was a special House Committee hearing to evaluate a Democratic proposal similar to the one proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, which would spend $2 trillion over four years on renewables and other climate programs.

Congressional interest in my testimony stems in part from the fact that I advocated for a Democratic energy proposal very similar to Biden’s between 2002 and 2009. Back then, the Obama administration justified the $90 billion it was spending on renewables as an economic stimulus, just as Biden’s campaign is doing today.

But then, late in the hearing, Representatives Sean Casten of Illinois and Jared Huffman of California, both Democrats, used the whole of their allotted time to claim that I am not a real environmentalist, that I am not a qualified expert, and that I am motivated by money.

Had I been given a chance to respond, I would have noted that: I have been a climate activist for 20 years; my new book, Apocalypse Never, has received strong praise from leading environmental scientists and scholars; the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently invited me to serve as an expert reviewer; and that I have always been financially independent of industry interests.

But I wasn’t given the chance to say any of that. After Casten and Huffman lied about me, Rep. Garret Graves asked the committee’s chairperson, Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida, to let me respond. She refused and abruptly ended the hearing.

What, exactly, had I said that was so dangerous as to lead Democrats to engage in character assassination and undermine liberal democratic norms? Nothing I hadn’t already said last January when I testified before Congress about climate change and energy.

Back then, I testified that climate change is real but isn’t the end of the world nor even our most important environmental problem. I pointed to the inherent physical reasons renewables can’t power a high energy industrial civilization. And I noted that cheap and abundant natural gas and nuclear, not industrial solar and wind, have been the big drivers of emissions reductions.

I further made the case that climate change was distracting us from a far greater and more urgent threat, which is the global domination of nuclear energy by China and Russia, which could be disastrous for US interests and the future of liberalism and democracy around the world.

Nations that partner with Russia or China to build nuclear plants are effectively absorbed into their sphere of influence. The line between soft power and hard power runs through nuclear energy. On the one side is cheap and clean electricity. On the other, a stepping stone to a weapons program.

During today’s hearing, several Democratic members claimed that renewables today are cheaper than existing grid electricity. But if that were true, I replied, why do solar and wind developers require hundreds of billions of dollars from American taxpayers in the form of subsidies?

The Democrats are basing their climate agenda on what California did. But California’s electricity rates since 2011 rose six times more than they did in the rest of the US, thanks mainly to the deployment of renewables and the infrastructure they require, such as transmission lines.

Change in Electricity Retail Prices: California vs. Rest of US, 2011–2017

Instead of answering that question, Democrats claimed that solar and wind projects were somehow part of the battle for environmental justice. In reality, I noted, solar and wind projects are imposed on poorer communities and successfully resisted by wealthier ones.

In fact, a major new report found nearly 200 cases of human rights violations when renewable energy projects were imposed on poor communities. In Hawaii and Nebraska, indigenous leaders are resisting wind energy projects that threaten native bird species, including the nene and whooping crane, whose number one cause of mortality is transmission lines. 

Renewables also hurt working people by raising the cost of electricity for industries that offer good jobs with high pay. From 2011 to 2018, California’s industrial electricity prices rose 32 percent, while the average price in the other 49 states fell one percent. The good manufacturing jobs in renewables are mostly in China, which makes most of the world’s solar panels, including America’s, while the US is stuck with temporary low-wage service jobs installing solar panels and wind turbines, and doing energy efficiency retrofits. By contrast, nuclear power plants, which can operate for 80 years or longer, require high-wage, high-skilled, and permanent jobs for multiple generations. 

What’s going on? Why do Democrats, who imagine themselves to be on the side of working people and the poor, advocate for renewables and against nuclear? It’s hard not to notice that some of the Democrats’ largest donors, including Tom Steyer and Mike Bloomberg, are renewable energy and natural gas investors. Even one of my main antagonists, Rep. Casten, was a renewable energy investor before joining Congress.

Democratic interest in subsidizing renewables comes at a time when industrial renewable energy projects are being blocked around the world, as even their boosters now admit. “Biden plots $2tn green revolution but faces wind and solar backlash,” read a Guardian headline a few days ago. And just yesterday, a new coalition of community and environmental activists formed the Energy and Wildlife Coalition to block industrial renewable energy projects around the world.

The last time Democrats spent big on renewables, during the 2009 green stimulus, 10 members of former President Barack Obama’s finance committee, and more than 12 of his “bundlers,” benefited from $16.4 billion of the $20.5 billion in stimulus loans, as I note in my new book.

Steyer, Bloomberg, and many other renewable energy investors also donate hundreds of millions of dollars to groups like the Sierra Club, which turn around and lobby for more spending on renewables, and for the closure of nuclear power plants. Killing nuclear plants is a lucrative business for competitor fossil fuel and renewable energy companies. That’s because nuclear plants generate such large amounts of electricity. 

In 2016, two top former aides to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo worked with a major Cuomo campaign contributor, the natural gas company Competitive Power Ventures, to close Indian Point nuclear plant. A federal indictment on influence peddling filed by Preet Bharara in 2016 alleged that Competitive Power Ventures and the Cuomo administration both recognized that if Indian Point were taken offline, it would be replaced by natural gas, not imported hydro and wind, as Democrats had claimed.

Democrats have worked to shut down nuclear plants and replace them with fossil fuels and a smattering of renewables, since the 1970s, as I note in my new book, Apocalypse Never. They created detailed reports for policymakers purporting to show that neither nuclear plants nor fossil fuels are needed to meet electricity demand, thanks to energy efficiency and renewables. And yet, almost everywhere nuclear plants are closed, or not built, fossil fuels are burned instead.

Now, if the Democrats’ $2 trillion climate proposal passes into law, a lot of very powerful people stand to make a lot of money, from winning tender for industrial projects such as building wind turbines and transmission lines all the way to the outright cash payments that we saw during Obama’s green stimulus. 

In the end, the war on nuclear energy threatens more than political corruption and higher emissions. At a time when China is committing a potential genocide against its Muslim citizens, and Russia’s president is expanding his domestic and international powers, the US should not allow these two nations to dominate nuclear power plant construction.

If the US keeps closing nuclear plants and fails to build new ones, we will cede our ability to compete with the Russians and Chinese in building new nuclear plants abroad, which will undermine national security, and good industrial jobs at home. The threat posed by America’s illiberal, nuclear-building rivals will, like the crisis facing renewables, continue to grow, regardless of whether Democrats succeed in shutting me up.

 

Michael Shellenberger is a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,” and president of Environmental Progress, an independent research and policy organization. He is the author of Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us AllFollow him on Twitter @ShellenbergerMD.

Feature image: the author testifying in front of Congress by video conference.

Comments

  1. This tactic is being deployed against all those who are guilty of wrongthink. Welcome to the dark side!

    Noel

  2. That’s par for the course. They just did this to AG Barr as well. The Democrats don’t really care about solving anything, they just want to keep exploiting these issues for their own gain and for power. It’s more than just sad and disgraceful, it’s a dereliction of duty and the Dems that do it should not only be removed from any committees they’re on, but should resign from office.

  3. Yeah, it’s wishful thinking. The Dems know they’re hypocrites, but they don’t care. They know that what they’re doing is dividing the country, but they don’t care. They know they can fix a LOT of issues if they really wanted to, but they don’t. The only way to really stop them (without going full armed revolt at least) is to stop voting Democrat. But getting people to do that is a whole other problem in and of itself that the GOP doesn’t seem capable of figuring out.

  4. Okay. I get it. You were invited and then not allowed to fully testify.
    No one could ever accuse me of liking Democrats. Stuff I’ve written in the Quillette Circle should prove my bona-fides as a true Anti-Democrat. But this title is intended to titillate… as is my use of the word titillate! So you didn’t get a chance to testify and say what you wanted to say. So what? You’re not entitled to speak before Congress… No problem. Publish elsewhere… which you did. So… no problem. I can assure you, more people will read you article here than will have seen your testimony. Congress is about half full of complete assholes and most people believe this… why? Well, because if you’re a Dem, you think the Repubs are assholes. And if you’re a Repub, then you likely think the Dems are assholes. So what do you expect when you walk into a building that will likely have about 50% assholes…?

    As for lies…
    You went to CONGRESS… and are frustrated by lies?

    Career tip: if you hate lies, lying and liars… avoid the halls of Congress.

  5. This is true. The Democrats have been successfully hijacked by the radical left in the same way the American conservative movement was destroyed by the twisted freaks made up of tea baggers and freedom caucus. These are not Burkean conservatives. Donald Trump is not a conservative. Democrats will win and America will spiral into the abyss and transform into something unrecognizable, AG Barr is no hero. Portraying him as some great legal mind is a joke. I blame the Republicans for this as they failed to build a reliable balanced conservative movement. Many if not most minorities would embrace true conservatism but the Republican shitheads make no attempt to engage them. That’s why they vote Democrat. Why would they vote for a club that holds them with such contempt? I live in the 51st district right on the US/Mexico border. Many low income but hard working people. They share many conservative values such as the importance of the nuclear family, hardwork and religion. We have one Republican running for congress (a retired Marine of Hispanic decent) But the republican club provides him 0 support. If you don’t want them, then have the courage to say “we only want Anglos” in our club. I could give a rats ass about the color of peoples skin but both clubs love that shit. Thanks to AG Barr and the republican freaks we now have no reliable opposition. I joined Quillette to escape the BS pissed out on main street media but I’m finding many of the conservations mirroring that same nonsense. Donald Trump is no fucking conservative hero. His impulsive erratic childlike behavior has ensured that the entire West US coast will become a Maoist shithole.

  6. That was ensured long before Trump became president. The California pension fund ensures eventual insolvency. The government’s insatiable thirst to meddle everywhere reducing freedoms ensures the state’s slide into a Maoist Paradise. Add to this very strong government employee unions that resist change and an electorate that always votes yes to spend more money as long as the proposition contain “Save the __________ (fill in the blank). All this has given us some of the nation’s worse roads, some of the worse schools, some of the highest income and sales taxes and the highest energy prices. Did I mention the state with the highest wealth disparities in the country and the most homelessness?

    The state was well on the skids before Trump was elected.

  7. Support for renewable energy has never been about decarbonizing energy (reducing carbon dioxide emissions). Decarbonizing was tagged on to renewables as an afterthought. I have at least 2 arguments to justify that:
    (1) Environmentalism has always been close to Malthusianism and obsessions over limits. Most of my life I’ve been told fossil fuel is bad because it’s running out: we’ll reach peak oil in less than 10 years. The other anti-fossil fuel argument given to me: it pollutes. Even two years ago I was still hearing the limits argument - I was told climate activism was justified because we should conserve fossil fuel for future generations. That makes little sense: less than 10% of known fossil fuel reserves have been exploited so far and future generations will have the new technologies bequeathed to them which we invent. New forms of fission power, possibly fusion power which will make these worries over limits anachronistic. The pollution argument was valid back in the 1950s when London had pea-souper fogs which actually killed people. Even before that, in 1948, William Vogt published the best-selling environmental book prior to the 1960s: “Road to Survival”. Note the title. He’s talking your survival and mine. He advocated renewables and sparse fossil fuel energy for what he believed to be the inevitable day fossil fuels ran out. 72 years ago environmentalists were obsessed with fossil fuels running out; and the existential threat they believed it will present. Nothing’s changed; they still obsess over limits.
    (2) Energiewende, in Germany was a policy aimed at replacing nuclear powered and fossil fuel electricity with renewables. Environmentalists like to pretend it was about decarbonization. But green politicians who advocated Energiewende rarely talked about climate change and the supposed role of carbon dioxide. They did talk about the dangers of nuclear power.
    (3) In fact energy decarbonization is far easier to with nuclear power. For all the reasons Micheal Shellenberger gives.

    I think it’s about time Michael Shellenberger admits the climate change argument is just another limits argument in the style of Vogt’s “Road to Survival”. No empirical evidence supports carbon dioxide induced climate change. It is supported only by models.

  8. Pro-nuke, anti-renewable bias is also called “pro-economics” and protecting the natural environment. Because renewable energy, RE, makes intensive use of land, is a threat to avian species, depends on weather, daylight, and the seasons. So must be backed by an equal capacity of fossil fuel energy to cover for windless days, and sunless nights.

  9. This is a larger issue than Shellenberger. Energy is in everything we do.That means the cost of energy is in everything we do and these costs hit the poor the hardest. Carbon taxes are the most regressive taxes than can be devised. Let’s say you drive a $70K Tesla. You pay nothing for the maintenance of the roads you drive on, which are funded by gas taxes. The government wrote you a $7500 check to help you buy the Tesla. As you are driving you pass a guy in a 2001 ratty old pick-up. He can’t afford your $70K Tesla. But he is the one that paying for your roads. And the government did not write him a check to help him buy his pickup. The average household income in the U.S.is around $62,000. The average household income of a Tesla owner is $143,177

    https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2019/09/us-median-household-income-up-in-2018-from-2017.html#:~:text=Real%20median%20household%20income%20in,%2461%2C937%20between%202017%20and%202018.

    https://hedgescompany.com/blog/2018/11/tesla-owner-demographics/#:~:text=Tesla%20Model%203).-,

    Want to put solar panels on your home. The government will pay you to do that as well. Too poor to own a home? Too bad! A friend of mine is a retired tax accountant for a Big Eight firm. He gave me a great education on renewable tax incentives for large corporations. You probably think the the outer framework (girders, etc.) of a mall is the outer framework of a mall. You would be wrong. It is a solar panel support structure. As such, the mall builder gets huge tax incentives. We, as taxpayers, gave Elon Musk $4.6 billion dollars in direct subsidies and way more in tax breaks. We gave even more to Next Era Energy the largest provider of wind energy. Two of the largest investors in renewables are Bloomberg and Steyer. In the middle of the 2000’s when people were discussing carbon credits. Al Gore partnered with Goldman Sachs to set up an entity to buy and sell carbon carbon credits. Big money is at stake here.

    I have been giving talks about energy to geologic societies, colleges, and business groups for the past several months. The last four have been Zoom talks .If you want to learn more about energy, Visit Scott Tinker’s website .Scott is head of the Bureau of Economic Geology in Texas and holds an endowed chair at UT. All of his work is studiously non-partisan. He has produced two full length movies about energy and energy poverty.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvaE0PFna84

    Never think that renewables are just about saving the environment. That crap is for the useful idiots. There are fortunes to be made here. You may not like Shellenberger but understand that he is threatening big money and big money always wins.

  10. That’s not a logical reaction. You are blaming the Republicans because the Democrats will do something awful.

    That’s the equivalent of blaming the police because your house got robbed. The proper blame is on the culprit, not on some other group for not stopping the culprit.

  11. I disagree. There are two parts of enacting solutions. 1) Identifying the underlying problem, and 2) proposing (and eventually enacting) a better solution. We can all see problems in society, but it is the enacting of something superior to current situations that is the tricky part and the one most often missing from many arguments. What the author is trying to do here is propose a superior solution (nuclear) than the current proposal (subsidized renewable’s backed up by fossil fuels). According to him it is superior in cost (his example of CA), in greenhouse gas emissions (Germany), environmental impacts (birds) and jobs (China/USA profiles); which ironically is all the reasons cited by renewable/environmentalist groups as why we need them. Plus he then gives the underlying corruption case ($Billions to democratic donors) as to why the current state is as it is and is not optimal to the stated goals.

    The proper response to this argument is to disprove his positive points about nuclear energy, or include negative points he refused to speak to (fukashima, lack of a Yucca mountain, nuclear terrorism, costs of mining etc) that may outweigh the arguments he laid out. Calling him ‘biased’ because he is proposing an alternative solution is extremely damaging to proper debate. It is the equivalent of calling someone ‘problematic’ in social circles. It doesn’t further the discussion, it stops it.

    This is the key paragraph:

    If it is true, then his ‘bias’ to nuclear is a lot more like ‘this is a better idea and here is why’ than ‘this will benefit me’. I’ll take the ‘here is a better idea and why’ “bias” all day long.

    PS- Interesting how much the ‘party of science’ doesn’t want to hear when their ‘science’ is wrong. That isn’t science, it is dogma.

  12. funny, all of my friends in the field would disagree with you. (These are people with PH’ds studying climate). Climate Change is real, and human caused though green house gases. What isn’t real is the fear mongering predictions of doom and gloom that are predicted because of it. Things will get better for humans in some areas, worse in others, and not change hardly at all in some others. All over the next 80-100 years, which is all that could be even remotely predicted, and leaves plenty of time to adapt.
    But claiming there is no evidence of climate change outside of models is wrong and dumb. Not as dumb as saying if we don’t all convert to solar in 9 years and use sails to power ships around the world (no planes ever) than we are all doomed… but still head in the sand dumb.

  13. As soon as you punitively tax a certain forms of energy and subsidize others, the market is not making the decision. the government is. And any tax on energy would hit the poor the hardest. I could easily afford a Tesla. I own a house so it would be a simple matter to install a high amperage 220V outlet in my garage. But the single mom who lives in an apartment can’t afford a $50K+ car and if she could, where exactly is is she going to plug it in. Most apartments do not come with attached garages and most do not have 220V outlets.It takes three days to fully recharge a Tesla Model 3 with 110V. Is she supposed to run an 400-500 foot extension cord from her apartment to wherever she parked her car for three days? In your utopian world, the poor subsidize the affluent. For my Energy talk, I calculated what it would cost to get 50% of my energy from rooftop solar. The answer is around $45,500. But the government would write me a check fo $10,500. to defray some of that. Is it moral for the government take money from hard working people who do not make what I made and give it to an affluent person like myself?

    The food for a week for the average American family of four for a week takes the energy equivalent of 22 gallons of gas. Do poor people eat less food? Or do they just pay more in your utopia.

    Do you actually care about people that are poor? Restrictive land use policies and regulations on development in the name of environmentalism have made houses all but unaffordable for the middle class in many parts of California. I pay $0.097 per KwH for electricity in Texas. The average price in California is over twice that due to the push for expensive wind and solar energy. You want to make it higher for everyone.Who does that hurt? Tom Steyer? Not a chance, He is investing in wind and solar. He makes money.

    I remember a time when the Dems actually cared about people less fortunate than themselves. I WAS a Democrat back then. But I still care about those people. So now I am a Republican The Dems are much more concerned about maintaining the clerisy and virtue signalling.

    Yeah I know, I’m back to being blocked. But others will read this.

  14. His basic premise is that renewables are no alternative for a high energy society. He does seem to make this case, after all for every kWh in renewables you need 100% backup. Germany’s energy transition is failing at the cost of over €500B. And going back to a low energy society will be devastating for the poor.

    The argument from his book that impressed most is how over the past decades we tried to push renewables on developing countries while no country ever has gotten out of poverty without the help of plenty of energy.

    My only concern with Shellenberger is that I find it almost too to hard to believe that the Democrat part has so much corruption? His story about governors Brown is mind boggling. Why are they not suing him for libel?

  15. Well the other thing to remember is that this is the Soviet Union we are talking about. Even an incrementally small variation in the quality of safety controls across a seven step safety protocol will exponentially increase the risks of a catastrophic accident- and their track record on environmental pollution, safety and worker competence would suggest that we’re probably talking near to an order of magnitudes increased risk across each individual safety protocol.

    Plus, there are engineering solutions which have since been invented which completely alleviate all risks of a catastrophic failure. One such innovation is a dual plug soft metal system, invented by two German engineers, which would cause the reactor the cease functioning and heating, if it overheated beyond a certain point. Another is better cooling systems.

    If these two concepts were incorporated into modern designs, a nuclear strike on a nuclear facility, or a direct hit by a major meteor on a new nuclear facility could replicate the effects of Chernobyl style failure, but I would suggest that a one mile high tidal wave travelling around the globe, or the effects of nuclear winter, might be a more significant source of alarm.

    Its important to remember that whilst radioactive particles in the environment cause a persistent risk, this risk is small by comparison to many of the other pollutants we find in our environment. Smoking or ingesting weed, for example, is a far more significant health risk, for example. As does metal poisoning from solar, over the long term.

    It’s also important to remember that we don’t really have any other options, barring a major dieback of the human population. Any attempt to introduce energy austerity would have dire consequences for the world economy, pushing hundreds of millions of people back into absolute poverty as productive labour withdraws from their economies. We are already seeing such effects unfold in the Developing World, as a result of reduced consumer consumption from COVID-19. Disruptions to economies can be just as harmful, in human terms, as any natural disaster or man-made catastrophe.

    We do need to tackle climate change- but every action carries risks and consequences, even in terms of human deaths- and only more thorough economic analyses bringing all the science to bear, can tell us which risks and human losses are acceptable, and which ones are not.

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