Nation Needs New Apollo Project

Posted July 17, 2008 at 2:41pm

With oil prices reaching new highs almost daily, it’s clear we need a national commitment to solving our energy crisis. The solution is a New Apollo Project — a bold, optimistic and truly comprehensive plan that would harness the innovative spirit of Americans to break our addiction to oil by transitioning our economy from fossil fuels to clean-energy technologies.

Such a plan exists. I and others have been working on it since the beginning of this decade. In 2002, I made the case for a New Apollo Project with an opinion piece in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Arguments made then still are relevant today:

“No single national endeavor has such capacity to expand our economy by tapping our innate and unique technological genius for innovation. No single national priority is so critical to reduce the risks from impending man-made climate change. No single non-military action can be as effective in avoiding the security challenges that haunt us due to our addiction to Mideast oil.

“This national endeavor needs a name. It needs a name invested with the historical imagery of American innovation and sense of destiny. We should call it ‘the New Apollo Project.’ What the nation achieved in building the technologies that took us to the moon now can be matched by technologies that keep our launching pad, Earth, in healthy condition.”

It’s appropriate that we call it a New Apollo Project — as opposed to a New Manhattan or other project — because our endeavor to bring a clean-energy revolution to fruition matches the positive, hopeful vision of the original Apollo Project. The New Apollo Project is premised on the same belief we had in the 1960s that Americans have the creative genius and can-do spirit to come out on top — this time in the race to develop clean-energy technologies and solve global warming. It’s focused on what Americans are capable of doing to advance national and global interests, without the moral conundrums associated with the race to develop the first atomic bomb.

The analogy to the Apollo Project also is fitting because our clean-energy efforts will take presidential leadership and national participation. It was President John F. Kennedy’s bold, hopeful vision of a moon landing that captivated the imagination of Americans and led to the ultimate success of the program. As a nation, we rallied behind the challenge, made the commitment necessary to achieve our goals and felt an enormous sense of national pride when the project came to fruition. On July 20, 1969, about one-fifth of the world population watched Neil Armstrong’s iconic moonwalk — indicative of the event’s importance to Americans, as well as dreamers across the globe.

The comprehensive legislative proposal I named after the Apollo Project and in the spirit of the Apollo Project first was offered as an amendment to an energy bill in 2003. At the beginning of the next Congress, I filed it as a stand-alone bill in the House. And one year ago, I introduced an updated version of my New Apollo Energy Act, H.R. 2809, which now has 27 co-sponsors.

The most crucial aspect of the bill — or any plan to break our addiction to oil — is an economy-wide cap-and-trade program and complimentary regulatory standards that would end the subsidy we currently give to polluters by allowing them to spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for free. Enacting such a policy will level a playing field that gives carbon-emitters a free ride by ignoring the environmental, health and social costs of climate change. And it will create a market for clean-energy technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration that polluters currently have no financial incentive to use.

Additionally, my comprehensive plan recognizes that financial incentives alone are not enough to create a robust and self-sustaining carbon-free electricity market when the existing regulatory framework favors a small set of fossil-based fuel sources. That’s why it would establish national net metering and interconnection standards to allow Americans to hook their home solar systems up to the grid and get a fair price for the surplus electricity they produce.

The New Apollo Energy Act also aims to send a clear, long-term signal to industry and investors with provisions like extended and expanded tax incentives for investments in and production of domestic and renewable energy technologies. It would set higher efficiency standards for household appliances, provide incentives for green building practices and address problems in our transportation sector by promoting plug-in hybrid vehicles, renewable fuels and increased utilization of public transportation, among other things.

Some aspects of the bill have advanced since Democrats took control of Congress — namely improvements in automobile fuel-efficiency requirements; stronger efficiency standards for appliances, lighting and buildings; and the implementation of a renewable fuel standard. But much more needs to be done.

A bold, optimistic New Apollo Project is ready for liftoff. With the combined efforts of our next president, Congress, entrepreneurs and the American people, we will launch a clean-energy revolution and take a giant leap toward freeing our nation from dependence on fossil fuels and saving our planet from worst-case climate scenarios.

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) is a member of the Energy and Commerce and the Energy Independence and Global Warming committees.