Many environmental solutions are consistent with long‐standing conservative principles: fiscal responsibility, limited government, market entrepreneurship, community leadership, and public‐private partnerships. All have been proven to be effective. But supporters of big-government solutions have acquired such a monopoly on defining our challenges that conservatives seldom do a focused assessment of the state of conservation. Current environmental policy too often defaults to one-size-fits-all approaches that hinder innovation, curtail entrepreneurship, and disregard local initiative. This top-down government approach has repeatedly proven to be ineffective, especially today with limited financial resources.
That’s why I recently helped launch the Conservation Leadership Council, a coalition whose members represent a range of conservative politicians, policymakers, and business leaders. We need to rewrite the rules of conservation, and the way to do that is to ensure that conservative thinkers are finding data-driven, business-friendly environmental solutions.
Take clean energy. Two years ago, the name Solyndra was on everyone’s lips. The massive failure of the California-based solar company left clean-energy backers and taxpayers reeling and the Obama Administration struggling to explain itself. Conservative leaders launched a necessary truth-finding mission to find what went wrong and how the administration could invest $535 million taxpayer dollars in an obvious lemon.
But that failure doesn’t mean we don’t still need a cleaner energy economy and a stronger commitment to protecting our environment. While the Obama Administration’s failings have shown how not to do things, conservatives should be exploring the right ways to address these issues.
There is innovative conservative thinking out there. For example, take a new paper by Derek Stimel, an economist at Menlo College, commissioned by the CLC. The paper proposes structuring federal investment by using market dynamics to encourage clean energy innovation. Call it the un-Solyndra way.
Stimel notes that venture capitalism could be used to finance new innovations, because it spreads risk among a large number of investors and has a proven track record of weeding out the ideas that are least likely to succeed. This creates a flexible and competitive market able to absorb high levels of uncertainty. Within this framework, Stimel proposes two possible solutions to be incorporated into the government loan program -- block grants and federal auctions.
Block grants, an incremental improvement, disperse funds across states thereby reducing the risk of loss and potential for cronyism. By allocating federal funds to states, block grants introduce a level of competition and diversification to innovation. More ambitious would be an auction process, where federal funds are sold to venture-capital organizations to create an authentic market dynamic and take the federal government out of the process entirely.