US Sen. Alexander proposes ‘New Manhattan Project’ for clean energy

April 15, 2019
US Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) proposed what he termed “one Republican’s response to climate change: a New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy.”

US Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) proposed what he termed “one Republican’s response to climate change: a New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy.” His plan would double federal funding for energy research and natural gas, carbon capture, and eight other “grand challenges” over the next 5 years to create new sources of cheap, clean energy, he said in a Mar. 25 Senate floor address.

Alexander’s proposal was a clear response to H.R. 109, which US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced on Feb. 7 that became known as the Green New Deal. The measure’s goals include reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to zero, establishing millions of high-paying jobs and ensuring economic security, and investing in infrastructure and security.

“I believe the Democrat cure for climate change is so far out in left field that not many are going to take it seriously,” Alexander said in response to that proposal. “The Democrats’ Green New Deal is basically an assault on cars, cows, and combustion. And with nuclear power available, its strategy for fighting climate change with windmills makes as much sense as going to war in sailboats.”

He said, “Meeting these grand challenges would create breakthroughs in advanced nuclear reactors, natural gas, carbon capture, better batteries, greener buildings, electric vehicles, cheaper solar, and fusion. To provide the tools to create these breakthroughs, the federal government should double its funding for energy research and keep the US No. 1 in the world in advanced computing.”

The original Manhattan Project mobilized US scientific knowledge to produce the world’s first atomic bomb toward the end of World War II in response to reports that Nazi scientists were conducting similar research.

Alexander, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, said a new Manhattan Project would take advantage of advantage of “the United States’ secret weapon: our extraordinary capacity for basic research, especially at our 17 national laboratories.” He said, “It will raise family incomes at home, strengthen our economy, and show the rest of the world how to reduce carbon emissions—because the rest of the world is where the carbon emissions problem has to be solved.”

He suggested that when it comes to climate change, “China, India, and developing countries are the problem [and] American innovation is the answer.”

Alexander said according to the Global Carbon Project, the US has reduced GHG emissions more than any other country in the last 13 years. He noted that during the last 5 years in the US:

• Carbon emissions from energy consumption fell by 230 million tonnes.

• The number of electric vehicles doubled along with the median driving range per charge.

• The utility scale cost of solar power was nearly cut in half.

• The number of homes rose 4% as energy usage per household dropped by 10%.

• The US lost and then reclaimed the world’s supercomputing leadership.

• The cost of gas was cut in half, and the percentage of electricity generated by gas climbed to 35% from 27%.

Alexander said many of his plan’s grand challenges already have been proposed by the National Academies of Science and the National Institute of Engineering and endorsed by leaders of both political parties. “You don’t have to believe humans cause climate change to believe in the New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy, and you don’t have to be a Republican,” he stated.

His proposal was not the first Republican response in the Senate to the New Green Deal. Earlier, Bill Cassidy (La.), who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Energy Subcommittee, released a white paper saying that gas already is reducing GHG emissions more effectively than what the Democrats proposed by replacing coal in many power plants while providing a quickly reactive backup to wind and solar power (OGJ Online, Feb. 15, 2019).