Washington’s been handing out tax incentives for decades, and has precious little to show for it. Corn-based ethanol, to name one, enjoys a 51-cents-per-gallon tax subsidy. That means taxpayers are shelling out about $4.5 billion this year for ethanol they haven’t even put into their cars yet.
That subsidy will drop slightly under the new farm bill (to 45 cents-per-gallon), but that’s little comfort to drivers. Meanwhile, as Investors Business Daily pointed out, lawmakers agreed to spend more money on other biofuels including switch grass. “The Democrats can’t wait for offshore oil or ANWR, but they can wait for switch grass,” IBD noted sardonically.
The problem is that many of these alternate fuels have been around for decades. In 1976, Disney published a comic book featuring Mickey Mouse and Goofy exploring energy. Wind, water and geothermal power were some of the technologies that were supposed to help us pull out of that year’s “energy crisis.” These “infant technologies” have now joined me in middle-age, and have yet to make much of a contribution to our energy supply.
Richardson added that, “Obama wants to develop that battery too. And he wants to develop fuel efficient vehicles and plug-in hybrids. These are the new technologies of the future.” He just wants the government to be the driving force in the development.
But it won’t be. The government can’t do R & D as well as the market does. In fact, the government can’t even keep its previous promises.
The federal government was legally required to begin taking charge of all nuclear waste in this country in 1998. That’s during Richardson’s tenure as Energy Secretary. It hasn’t taken charge of any (although it’s managed to collect $27 billion in fees from nuclear plants, money that’s supposedly being spent on permanent disposal of nuke waste) and it’ll probably never take charge of any.
McCain’s approach, whether he knows it or not, is the right one. The best way for the government to encourage innovation is to draft requirements, set rewards and get out of the way.
Tax incentives don’t work, but rewards might, and wouldn’t cost taxpayers anything until they’ve led to a successful product. That, at least, would be a “change” for the better.
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