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June 2, 2011

Environmental Advocate Nominated to be Next Commerce Secretary

June 2, 2011
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On May 31, President Obama announced the nomination of John Bryson to succeed Gary Locke as Secretary of the Department of Commerce. If confirmed by Congress, Mr. Bryson will be the head of the U.S. agency tasked with promoting economic growth.

President Obama hailed the appointment of Mr. Bryson as being key to helping the United States’ clean energy industry—and there is no doubt that he will be a staunch ally in that regard. Mr. Bryson, a former utility executive, was a co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group that has lobbied vigorously for regulations on carbon dioxide emisssions and for renewable energy subsidies. Since September 2010, Mr. Bryson has been chairman of BrightSource Energy Inc., a solar power plant developer and recent beneficiary of a $1.6 billion loan guarantee—funded by the U.S. government with stimulus money—to build a massive solar complex in the Mojave Desert.

It is also troubling to note that Mr. Bryson’s confirmation would make him the top official at an agency that includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—the U.S. regulator responsible for oversight and protection of the U.S.’ oceans and atmosphere. A former member of the United Nations’ advisory group on climate change, Mr. Bryson notably referred to the Democratic climate change bill passed by the House in 2009—also known as Waxman-Markey—as being “moderate” in its approach, even though a study by the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) found that implementing Waxman-Markey would result in economic losses up to $571 billion by 2030, and up to 2.4 million lost jobs. Furthermore, under the cap-and-trade program, gasoline prices were forecasted to increase 20 to 26 percent, residential electricity prices by 31 to 50 percent, residential natural gas prices by 56 to 74 percent, and coal prices to electric utilities increase a whopping 565 to 755 percent in 2030. And yet, for Mr. Bryson, this doesn’t push the envelope far enough.

Indeed, Mr. Bryson’s long history of environmental advocacy and his ties to the subsidy-dependent green industry seem to be principal reasons for his appointment as Commerce Secretary. “In the years ahead, a key to achieving our export goal will be promoting clean energy in America. It’s how we’ll reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” President Obama said in his nomination announcement. ”John understands this better than virtually anybody,” he went on, “Throughout a distinguished career in which he’s led nonprofits, government agencies and large companies, he’s been a fierce proponent of alternative energy.”

President Obama’s belief that clean energy investments will offset our dependence on foreign oil in the short-term is misplaced, given that oil is used predominantly as a transportation fuel and produces less than 1 percent of U.S. electricity. This scenario would only be feasible were many of the United States’ 250 million passenger vehicles to be changed over to electric models, and only if the United States switched from using coal to produce 45 percent of its electricity to mostly alternative energy sources. Ultimately, the wisdom of this goal is questionable given that generating electricity from wind and solar is substantially more expensive than burning coal—more than triple the cost, in the case of photovoltaic solar.

Lastly, the idea that massive subsidies for alternative energy will significantly benefit the U.S. economy is disingenuous, as promised “green jobs” continue not to materialize. In any event, alternative energy promotion should not be the focal point of Commerce’s mission, nor a factor in the selection of its top official. Mr. Bryson should be thoroughly vetted by Congress to ensure that his background and experience are appropriate for the position of our nation’s chief economic advocate, and as the top official in charge of its regulating its oceans and atmosphere.


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