Via — wait for it — The Nation:
The Center for American Progress, Washington’s leading liberal think tank, has been a big backer of the Energy Department’s $25 billion loan guarantee program for renewable energy projects. CAP has specifically praised First Solar, a firm that received $3.73 billion under the program, and its Antelope Valley project in California.
Last year, when First Solar was taking a beating from congressional Republicans and in the press over job layoffs and alleged political cronyism, CAP’s Richard Caperton praised Antelope Valley in his testimony to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, saying it headed up his list of “innovative projects” receiving loan guarantees. Earlier, Caperton and Steve Spinner— a top Obama fundraiser who left his job at the Energy Department monitoring the issuance of loan guarantees and became a CAP senior fellow—had written an article cross-posted on CAP’s website and its Think Progress blog, stating that Antelope Valley represented “the cutting edge of the clean energy economy.”
Though the think tank didn’t disclose it, First Solar belonged to CAP’s Business Alliance, a secret group of corporate donors, according to internal lists obtained by The Nation. Meanwhile, José Villarreal—a consultant at the power- house law and lobbying firm Akin Gump, who “provides strategic counseling on a range of legal and policy issues” for corporations—was on First Solar’s board until April 2012 while also sitting on the board of CAP, where he remains a member, according to the group’s latest tax filing.
CAP is a strong proponent of alternative energy, so there’s no reason to doubt the sincerity of its advocacy. But the fact that CAP has received financial support from First Solar while touting its virtues to Washington policy-makers points to a conflict of interest that, critics argue, ought to be disclosed to the public. CAP’s promotion of the company’s interests has supplemented First Solar’s aggressive Washington lobbying efforts, on which it spent more than $800,000 during 2011 and 2012.
“The only thing more damaging than disclosing your donors and having questions raised about the independence of your work is not disclosing them and have the information come to light and undermine your work,” says Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “The best practice, whether required by the IRS or not, is to disclose contributions.”
Nowadays, many Washington think tanks effectively serve as unregistered lobbyists for corporate donors, and companies strategically contribute to them just as they hire a PR or lobby shop or make campaign donations. And unlike lobbyists and elected officials, think tanks are not subject to financial disclosure requirements, so they reveal their donors only if they choose to. That makes it impossible for the public and lawmakers to know if a think tank is putting out an impartial study or one that’s been shaped by a donor’s political agenda. “If you’re a lobbyist, whatever you say is heavily discounted,” says Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University and an expert on political ethics. “If a think tank is saying it, it obviously sounds a lot better. Maybe think tanks aren’t aware of how useful that makes them to private interests. On the other hand, maybe it’s part of their revenue model.”
Later in the article, more donors are exposed:
According to these lists, CAP’s donors included Comcast, Walmart, General Motors, Pacific Gas and Electric, General Electric, Boeing and Lockheed. Though it doesn’t appear on the lists, the University of Phoenix was also a donor.
Hmmm. Let’s search CAP’s website for more potential “green” conflicts of interest, whereby CAP failed to disclose its financial interest in companies it was praising. . .
First Solar’s Antelope Valley, California, project will be the first utility-scale solar plant in the United States to incorporate thin-film technology on a system that tracks the movement of the sun. This technology will increase solar efficiencies and help make solar power more cost competitive. Antelope Valley, which will create 350 jobs and generate 230 MW of energy, received a $680 million loan guarantee.
When President Obama took office both General Motors and Chrysler teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. Despite some public and congressional opposition, the president provided loans to the automakers to prevent their collapse and provide them with time to restructure.
One of the stipulations of the auto bailout was that the companies had to develop aggressive plans to return to viability by investing in energy-efficient cars. Both companies agreed to move toward a more fuel-efficient fleet. In a March 2009 press statement President Barack Obama said the landmark agreement would create “a 21st century auto industry that is creating new jobs, unleashing new prosperity, and manufacturing the fuel-efficient cars and trucks that will carry us towards an energy-independent future.”
In addition to the successful bridge loans, other major Obama administration policies helped the auto industry and the nation by creating jobs, reducing oil use, saving families money, and cutting pollution. These policies included modern fuel economy standards, investments in research of alternatively fueled vehicles, retooling facilities to manufacture cleaner cars, and incentives for consumers to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles.
In addition to returning General Motors and Chrysler to profitability, GM announced on January 4, 2013, that it is the first automaker to sell 1 million cars in one year that get 30 miles per gallon.
Some things do improve over time. Among them is the Obama administration’s plan for using government lands to anchor the renewable energy revolution.
Ten months after the Interior Department issued a draft plan for siting large solar energy projects in six western states, and after listening carefully to the views of conservationists, developers, utilities, and others, the Obama administration has made significant improvements.
[. . .]
Fong Wan, senior vice president for energy procurement at Pacific Gas and Electric Company, said the new process “will provide more certainty around project development on the front end, by helping to streamline siting, permitting and other potential challenges. It is steps like these that will help increase the likelihood of successful projects, propelling the country toward our shared renewable energy goals and clean energy future.”
China’s aggressive smart grid plan poses problems and promise for the United States. On the one hand, U.S. companies currently have the most advanced smart grid technology across the value chain—technology that could create big opportunities in China. State Grid is already working with General Electric Co., Honeywell International Inc., IBM Corp., and other U.S. companies on joint standardization projects. If those projects go well then at least some of China’s smart grid investments could go toward purchasing U.S. products and paying U.S. technology licensing fees.
You can read the entire piece at The Nation here.