Peter Dykstra: The headwind remains for clean energy

“What’s good for the country is good for General Motors, and what’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”

Charles Wilson, 1953

As President Biden reverses his victory lap to secure a major 50-50 Senate climate victory, the specter of Charles Wilson lingers. Wilson was the first Secretary of Defense in the Eisenhower administration. And yes, he was a bit biased towards GM because his previous job was as CEO of the company.


When you add to the specter of Wilson “Big Oil” and its dominance of US foreign policy — see how friendly Biden was to the Saudis last month — you’ll see a difficult road ahead to deliver on the promises of the Anti-Inflation Act.

To be sure, the climate and energy provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act are important, even if they are long overdue. But, for example, to appease the petrified wing of the Democratic Party, the bill expands industry access to federal lands — even though the industry holds more than 9,000 permits to drill on public lands
it was not used.

These are some examples of tactics that can compromise law enforcement.

Rough roads remain for electric vehicles

2006 documentary Who killed the electric car?describes successful efforts to end GM’s EV-1 in the late 1990s. EV-1 received high praise from engineers. It seemed to the whole world that the electric passenger car was finally ready. Within six years, the EV-1 program was not only shut down, but the existing machines were destroyed, leaving virtually no trace.

The fossil fuel industry’s push against electric vehicles (EVs) didn’t stop with the demise of GM’s EV-1 program. Two years ago, the American Petroleum Institute spearheaded the launch of the Transportation Justice Alliance, as brazen a shell group as any. The group claims that owners of petrol and diesel cars pay fuel tax at petrol stations. Owners of electric cars, they believe, are cheating the system by not participating in the tax pool that finances road construction and repair. (To be fair, electric cars don’t contribute to ground-level ozone pollution or “smog” either. And, depending on the source of the electricity, electric cars ideally don’t emit any carbon into the air.)

However, DeSmog researchers found that “the coalition is managed by FTI Consulting, an international consulting firm based in D.C. with a long history of running front groups and PR campaigns for the oil and gas industry.”

The solar panel on the roof is under attack

A report last year by the nongovernmental organization Environment America detailed efforts by state-level agencies and grassroots “astroturf” groups to strip homeowners of financial incentives to install rooftop solar panels. States including Ohio, Illinois, California, Kansas, South Carolina and Florida — ironically, the “Sunshine State” — have seen years of efforts to reimburse utilities to solar owners who sell their excess electricity back to the grid.

“Freda” Koch and the wind farm

Bill Koch is the brother of Charles and the late David Koch, politically active speakers who have funded many far-right groups since the 1980s.

Bill is an avid sailor who won the America’s Cup in 1992. While his Oxbow Industries had nowhere near the multi-billion dollar fossil fuel portfolio of his brothers, Bill had pockets full of his own. He also had strong feelings about wind power competing with oil and potentially spoiling the view of Nantucket Sound from his Cape Cod home.

He invested millions in a group that fought for Cape Wind, a 24-square-mile, 130-turbine proposal for the Sound. Cape Wind developer Jim Gordon won approval from multiple state and federal agencies and withstood at least 26 lawsuits before leaving the job in 2017.

What is the moral in all this?

After decades of false starts and dashed hopes, wind and solar are beginning to decline in numbers, with both growing at record rates in 2021. Science, economics, the increasingly pressing issue of climate change, and massive federal support behind it, is it really time for fossil fuels to start fossilizing?

Billion dollar businesses don’t go down without a fight. Someday.

Peter Dykstra is our editor and weekend columnist. His views do not necessarily reflect those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or the publisher of Environmental Health Sciences.

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