Paths and Pitfalls to Clean Energy Transition
This Common Ground event was the first cohosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), a non-profit organization that embodies the same values of communication and negotiation across the political spectrum that Hamilton’s panel series hopes to foster. Lesley Jantarasami, managing director of the Energy Program at BPC, moderated the discussion.
Jason Grumet, chief executive officer of the American Clean Power Association, and George David Banks, a Republican economist and energy policy advocate, took to the stage to discuss the issues.
As an economist, Banks focused primarily on using the market as a way to influence the energy transition, such as by utilizing trade, and on the global competitiveness of the United States in the energy sector. Grumet described Banks as the “Don Quixote” of trade, as Banks has been a proponent of its use in fighting climate change long before the idea became a widely accepted policy proposal.
“For example, the average product made in China is at least four times more carbon intensive than the average product made in the U.S., so then you would apply whatever fee you decided on to determine the difference between the carbon intensity in the process,” he explained.
Banks continued, “If you come up with an agreement with a critical mass of countries, let’s say the G7 and a few other countries that are relatively carbon deficient, you create a market where you have at least 50% of global imports, and therefore you make a pathway to create a de facto international price on carbon, which I would argue is what we need to drive deceleration and the deployment of clean technologies globally.”
In contrast, Grumet spoke mostly on the amount of action the United States must take in a short amount of time to reach its climate goals and what that time crunch means for realistic and achievable climate policies. Pipelines, nuclear power, and big companies — all typically seen as enemies in the environmental scene — are necessary, Grumet implored, for a successful energy transition.
“ ... We should be supporting every technology that benefits the goal of fighting climate change with a realistic sense of how hard it takes to get from here to there.”
“We are way behind, and we should be supporting every technology that benefits the goal of fighting climate change with a realistic sense of how hard it takes to get from here to there. Twelve percent of the country is using clean energy right now,” Grumet said. “What I see the progressives do, is they just want to solve it in one particular way. And we just don’t have time for that.”
Despite their different backgrounds and focuses, Grumet and Banks both emphasized the necessity of the United States becoming a bigger player in the global energy scene, especially as China becomes ever more influential in that market. The two speakers also concurred on the critical roles of process and reliability on the success of any climate policy.
Students were eager to discuss energy transition during the audience question segment of the program, with many prompting the speakers on the role of critical minerals and resource management on the economic and logistical sides of the climate change fight.
The discussion, a return to this year’s broad environment theme, echoed the themes found in the ever-popular economics classes of Hamilton and in the collective worries of a generation. Yet Grumet and Banks ended optimistically, emphasizing, as Banks put it, “humanity’s ability to innovate and to overcome huge challenges.”
Common Ground is Hamilton’s multi-format program that helps prepare students for active citizenship. Designed to explore cross-boundary political thought and complex social issues, Common Ground brings respected thought leaders to Hamilton to participate in small classroom dialogues and large event discussions. Topics intertwined with the College’s curriculum are chosen to foster critical thinking and holistic examination of difficult and often contentious national and global policy issues. The College thanks Mary Helen and Robert Morris ’76, P’16,’17; Eve Niquette and Charles Pohl, P’20,’25; and Lori and David Hess ’77 for their generous support of Common Ground.
All event photos by Nancy L. Ford.
Expand Your Perspectives
Common Ground is Hamilton’s multi-format program that helps prepare students for active citizenship. Designed to explore cross-boundary political thought and complex social issues, Common Ground brings respected thought leaders to Hamilton to participate in small classroom dialogues and large event discussions.
This collaboration will connect Hamilton’s Common Ground program and Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) University Partnership Program to encourage civil discourse and bring bipartisanship outside the beltway through robust intellectual exchange. Hamilton is the first liberal arts college to partner with BPC.