has unveiled what he called his climate cabinet appointees, and progressives are calling it an “all star” list. That depends on your point of view. One of the stars is former Michigan Gov.
to lead the Department of Energy, and the choice suggests a return to climate corporate subsidies.
DOE’s main duties are to oversee nuclear sites, set efficiency standards and dole out government largesse. But her credential for Mr. Biden may be that, during her governorship from 2003 to 2011, Ms. Granholm handed out hundreds of millions of dollars to politically favored startups to create “green jobs.” Many of her bets failed.
Take fledgling electric-car battery manufacturer A123 Systems, which was awarded a $249 million DOE grant plus $125 million in state tax credits. Plagued by manufacturing problems, A123 went bankrupt in 2012. China’s Wanxiang Group bought most of its assets.
A123’s customer, Fisker Automotive, also went bust in 2013 after receiving a $192 million DOE loan with the goal of manufacturing a hybrid at a plant located in Mr. Biden’s senatorial backyard. Fisker was backed by prominent liberal investors including
“Lobbying by all local politicians is said to have won the day for the Wilmington plant,” the Washington Post reported in 2013.
Ms. Granholm also offered battery manufacturer
$125 million on top of the $150 million in federal stimulus dollars it received. While LG Chem is still in business, its employees at the time were caught watching movies and playing games on the clock because they ostensibly had little productive to do.
Then there was the biofuels startup Mascoma, which was awarded $20 million from Ms. Granholm and up to $100 million from DOE for a plant to convert biomass into cellulosic ethanol. The plant was never built. Ms. Granholm also approved $100 million for a renewable energy park that was scrapped.
And don’t forget her dim solar-energy bets including United Solar Ovonic, Evergreen and GlobalWatt. According to the Mackinac Center, the Michigan think tank, only 2.3% of Ms. Granholm’s investments in the state’s main incentive program met their job creation promises. But there’s little accountability for failure in government.
This history is relevant as Mr. Biden and Democrats are again promising more spending to create “green jobs.” Government is a lousy venture capitalist and, more often than not, misallocates scarce capital. Investors these days are piling into electric-car and battery start-ups, betting on government subsidies and tougher emission rules by the Biden Administration that will force-feed electric vehicles. Startups received both during the Obama Administration but still failed because of technical problems and scarce demand.
Mr. Biden has also tapped North Carolina environmental regulator
for EPA Administrator. Progressives are praising Mr. Biden’s choice of a black American after lobbying hard against California Air Resources Board director
because she was insufficiently concerned with “environmental injustice.”
They’re right, in an ironic way. Ms. Nichols has been the driving force behind California’s cap-and-trade program, electric vehicle mandate, pie-in-the-sky renewable electricity requirements, and diesel engine emissions rules. Those have combined to destroy tens of thousands of middle-class jobs and raise energy costs for California’s poor. The climate lobby nonetheless said she didn’t do enough to put fossil-fuel producers out of business.
“Folks, we’re in a crisis,” Mr. Biden said this month, eliding wildfires, windstorms, hurricanes, flooding and drought all supposedly caused by climate change. Unpacking those falsehoods is a subject for another day. But as always with a progressive “crisis,” the solutions on offer are more subsidies for the politically connected, and more rules, mandates and taxes for everyone else.
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Appeared in the December 28, 2020, print edition.