Do Voters Want to Pay More For Energy?


A recent Grist article was elated over the apparent lack of voter knowledge on the Solyndra issue, and celebrates poll results showing Americans support “clean energy” initiatives. But ironically, the writer who is complaining about dishonesty himself quotes a Solyndra critic out of context to utterly change the meaning of his statement. Furthermore, the Grist article ignores all of the much stronger poll results showing that Americans aren’t willing to pay more for any of these pet projects.

First let’s see how the Grist writer distorts the words of a Solyndra critic:

When the solar manufacturing company Solyndra went bankrupt last September after receiving a $527 million loan guarantee, it sparked a politically motivated congressional investigation into the White House’s handling of the program — an “investigation” that critics admitted would “stop on election day.”

Now doesn’t that seem odd? A critic of the DOE loan program openly admits that the investigations into Solyndra would “stop on election day”? Even if this were merely a political issue, why would the politicians involved be so dumb as to say it openly?

In fairness, the Grist writer is simply repeating the inaccurate summary given by the E&E reporter on those fateful words. Here is the full context of the four-word phrase, taken from the E&E story linked by Grist:

In an interview after as he left yet another hearing in which Energy Secretary Steven Chu testified about the controversial loan program for clean energy companies, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said that — smoking gun or not — Republicans are finding value in drawing attention to the more controversial aspects of the loan guarantee program.

“Our staff will continue to dig into it and see,” Jordan said. “But what I hope happens is we stop doing these kind of things … this whole cronyism approach to the marketplace.

“Ultimately, we’ll stop it on Election Day, hopefully. And bringing attention to these things helps the voters and citizens of the country make the kind of decision that I hope helps them as they evaluate who they are going to vote for in November.”

So although the E&E reporter (and the Grist writer) see Jim Jordan here “admitting” that the Solyndra hearings are merely an election ploy, in fact what he’s hoping will “stop” is “this whole cronyism approach to the marketplace.” In other words, Jordan was hoping that the voters would reject candidates who favored Solyndra-type programs. If Jordan were referring to the Republican-led investigation, he wouldn’t have said “hopefully”; he and his colleagues had the power to stop the investigation after Election Day for sure (no hoping involved), if it were merely a political stunt. So here the E&E reporter and Grist writer are inventing an unflattering interpretation of Jordan’s statements when that’s obviously not what he was saying.

But now on to the Grist writer’s enthusiasm for polls:

Despite the millions of dollars spent on Solyndra-related television spots over the last five months, polls show that a majority of American voters still don’t know about the company or are indifferent.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from early October showed that 58 percent of registered voters are unaware of Solyndra…

A day earlier, Hart Research released a poll…showing that 67 percent of registered voters are either indifferent about Solyndra or have heard nothing recently about the company. At the same time, 70 percent of voters said they would support more government incentives to help develop the solar industry.

In addition, an April poll from the Pew Research Center found that 52 percent of Americans believe that “alternatives” to fossil fuels are the most important energy priority for the country…

For starters, it is hardly news that many Americans don’t know about Solyndra; in a 2006 survey, 43% of young adults couldn’t find New York State on a map. If they were first given a brief outline of all the corruption and inefficiency in the Solyndra debacle, many more of them would surely object to the program.

Yet the fundamental problem with the Grist approach is that Americans famously support all sorts of feel-good government programs yet don’t want to actually pay for them. Consider a Washington Post / Stanford University poll [.pdf] conducted in June 2012. It found:

  • 74% opposed “the federal government increasing taxes on electricity so people use less of it.”
  • 71% opposed “the federal government increasing taxes on gasoline so people either drive less or buy cars that use less gas.”

Thus, it is clear that Americans are not willing to actually pay more for energy, even though this is what just about everybody recognizes will be necessary, in order to reduce the U.S. “carbon footprint” significantly in the near-future.

Americans need much more education on energy issues, it’s true. But the more they understand the waste of the DOE loan program, and the more they recognize that “alternative energy solutions” actually mean higher electricity and gas prices in practice, large majorities of them will reject government intervention and let the market choose.

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