CCT is not corporate welfare
A bipartisan group of conservative Republicans, liberal Democrats, environmentalists and consumerists have banded together to frame a portion of this year`s federal budget debate in terms of “corporate welfare.” One of the programs being discussed in these terms is the U.S. Department of Energy Clean Coal Technology (CCT) program. When disparate groups come together like this, it may mean that our legislators are seriously addressing an important national issue. Unfortunately, I don`t think that`s the case here. I think political leaders are framing the debate in inflammatory terms in order to control the outcome. In other words, it`s politics as usual.
In reality, there are two questions: 1. Should the government fund new energy technology development? 2. Should the funds go to big corporations? I think the answer to the second question is straightforward: Let the people who know the technology do the work. The designers, manufacturers and operators of electrical equipment are best equipped to design, manufacture and operate the next generation of electrical equipment. Many of these skilled and knowledgeable people work for corporations. Should we shun these organizations, owned by all of us who have an individual retirement account or a few dollars in a mutual fund, just because of their corporate structure? I don`t think so. This isn`t welfare; it is efficiency. The role of the government in technology development is a different issue. For every technology on which the government spends a dollar, there are others that do not get that dollar. Should some federal agency pick the favored technologies, or should the market dictate what gets commercialized? In the ideal world, the market should choose. In the real world, however, I`m not so sure.
Both environmental quality and energy sufficiency are reasonable areas for government concern and involvement. Laws and regulations in these areas have grown to the point where the federal government`s requirements in one area, e.g. power plant emissions, conflict with the country`s self-interest in another area, e.g. energy sufficiency. Isn`t it up to the political process to resolve such conflicting interests? The CCT program arose from just such a process. It is wise to keep in mind President Ford`s warning: “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.” But given the reality of pervasive government regulations, I think we must accept the validity of an appropriate government role in helping cope with those regulations. If the cycle is to be broken, regulatory reform must come first. In the meantime, let`s keep the CCT program.