Speeches & Floor Statements

One Republican’s Response to Climate Change: A New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy: 10 Grand Challenges for the Next Five Years

Posted on March 25, 2019

One Republican’s Response to Climate Change:

A New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy 

10 Grand Challenges for the Next Five Years 

Advanced Nuclear

Natural Gas

Carbon Capture

  Better Batteries

Greener Buildings

Electric Vehicles

Cheaper Solar

Fusion

Advanced Computing

Double Energy Research Funding 

I believe climate change is real.

I believe that human emissions of greenhouse gases are a major cause of climate change.

And I believe the Democrat cure for climate change, their “Green New Deal,” is so far out in left field that not many are going to take it seriously.

So, as one Republican, I propose this response to climate change: the United States should launch a New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy, a five year project with Ten Grand Challenges that will use American research and technology to put our country and the world firmly on a path toward cleaner, cheaper energy.

Meeting these Grand Challenges would create breakthroughs in advanced  nuclear reactors, natural gas, carbon capture, better batteries, greener buildings,  electric vehicles, cheaper solar and fusion. To provide the tools to create these breakthroughs, the federal government should double its funding for energy research and keep the United States number one in the world in advanced computing.

This strategy takes advantage of the United States’ secret weapon: our extraordinary capacity for basic research, especially at our 17 national   laboratories. It will strengthen our economy and raise our family incomes.

This strategy also recognizes that, when it comes to climate change, China, India and other developing countries are the problem; American innovation is the answer. According to the Global Carbon Project, over the last 13 years, the United States has reduced production of greenhouse gases more than any major country. But over the last five years, China’s carbon emissions have risen.  The U.S. reduction is largely thanks to conservation and switching from coal to natural gas to produce electricity.

A California physicist put it this way: Our mothers told us as children to clean our plates because children in India were starving. Cleaning our plates was a good thing to do, but it didn’t do much for starving Indian children. In the same way, reducing carbon emissions in the United States may be good to do, but it doesn’t do much to address climate change because most of the increase in greenhouse gases is in developing countries. If we want to do something about climate change, we should use American research and technology to provide the rest of the world with tools to create low cost energy that emits fewer greenhouse gases.

The purpose of the original Manhattan project during World War II was to find a way to split the atom and build a bomb before Germany could. The New York Times described this as the “most concentrated intellectual effort in history.” Instead of ending a war, the goal of this New Manhattan Project will be to minimize the disruption on our lives and economies caused by climate change, to clean the air and to raise family incomes – both in our country and in the rest of the world by creating large amounts of clean, inexpensive energy.

Can a New Manhattan Project accomplish such bold breakthroughs in just five years? Well, just look at what has happened in the United States during the last five years: carbon emissions from energy consumption are down by 230 million metric tons; the number of electric vehicles has doubled and so has the median driving range per charge; the utility scale cost of solar power has been nearly cut in half; the number of homes has risen 4 percent, but household energy usage has decreased by 10 percent; we lost and then reclaimed the number one spot in supercomputing; the cost of natural gas has been cut in half, and the percent of electricity provided by natural gas has increased from 27-percent to 35-percent – all in the last five years.

I will not spend time in these remarks debunking the Green New Deal, because so many others so effectively have already done that. Basically the Green New Deal is an assault on cars, cows, and combustion. With nuclear power available, its strategy for fighting climate change with windmills makes as much sense as going to war in sailboats. As a bonus, it throws in free college, a guaranteed job with a government set wage, and would take away private health insurance on the job from 170 million American workers. No one has any earthly idea what it would cost taxpayers.

You don’t have to believe humans cause climate change to believe in the New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy, and you don’t have to be a Republican.  Hopefully the New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy can become a bipartisan proposal. Many of its Ten Grand Challenges have also been proposed by the National Institute of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences. At different times, Barack Obama and John McCain, Newt Gingrich and Howard Dean, all have called for a Manhattan Project for new energy sources.

These are the Ten Grand Challenges:

Advanced Nuclear — Ninety-eight nuclear reactors produce 60 percent of all carbon free electricity in the United States. There has never been a death as a result of an accident at one of these reactors. The problem is, in competition with natural gas and coal, these reactors cost too much to build and some cost too much to operate. According to the Energy Information Administration, eleven reactors may shut down during the next five years. Building the Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia, the only two new reactors being built in the U.S., could cost as much as $27.5 billion. Building two natural gas plants to create the same amount of electricity would cost less than $2 billion.  We need to stop talking about advanced reactors and actually build something. Within the next five years, we need to build one or more advanced reactors to demonstrate the capabilities they may bring—lower cost, increased safety, and less nuclear waste.

Natural Gas — During the 1980’s, American enterprise and technology   created a new, cheaper way to produce natural gas allowing the U.S. to lead the world in reducing carbon emissions, because natural gas has about half the carbon emission of a typical coal plant. Continuing to develop new combustion technologies will make natural gas fired electric generation more efficient and further reduce carbon emissions.

Carbon Capture — This is the holy grail of clean energy. Coal is cheap and there is a lot of it. Already we know how to capture sulphur, nitrogen, and mercury from coal plants to clean the air. If we can figure out a way also to  capture carbon at a cheaper cost and find large scale uses for its byproduct – for example, CO2 to ethanol – coal could be used everywhere in the world. The Natural Resources Defense Council has argued that, after conservation, coal with carbon capture is the best option for clean energy.

Better Batteries — The all-electric Nissan Leaf that I bought in 2011 had a hard time getting me from the Capitol to Dulles airport and back. Its real range was about 70 miles. Today’s Nissan Leaf can travel 226 miles on one charge.  A Tesla Model S can travel 335 miles. The price of lithium-ion batteries should fall another 45 percent during the next five years. Better batteries also can one day allow utilities and their customers to store large amounts of electricity during non-peak hours.

Greener Buildings — Despite considerable recent progress, this is still the real low-hanging fruit. Residential and commercial buildings still consume 39 percent of U.S. energy. 

Electric Vehicles — Ten years ago there were no mass produced electric cars on U.S. highways. Today, there are one million and automakers are making investments to make millions more.

Cheaper Solar — Solar power has grown by 1500 percent since 2011, but still accounts for only 2 percent of U.S. electricity. The new goal for the Department of Energy’s Sunshot initiative is to lower the cost of solar another 50 percent to .03 per kilowatt hour for utility scale solar. 

Fusion —This is the ultimate green energy dream: make electricity on earth the way the sun makes it. Instead of splitting elements, combine them and make clean, almost limitless energy without waste. This is still a dream, but there can be meaningful progress in five years.

Advanced Computing — China, Japan, the U.S., and the European Union all want to be first in advanced computing. The stakes are high because the winner has an advantage in such things as advanced manufacturing, simulating advanced reactors and weapons before they are built, finding terrorists and saving billions of Medicaid waste, and simulating the electric grid in a natural disaster. The US regained the number one spot last year thanks to sustained funding by Congress during both the Obama and Trump Administrations.  

Double Energy Research Funding— Advanced computing is the first tool the New Manhattan Project needs to meet its Grand Challenges. The second tool is money. It would take $6 billion annually to double funding for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and its 17 national laboratories, which are where most of the our nation’s basic energy research is done. By comparison, many estimate the cost of the Green New Deal is trillions annually. 

This is a bold agenda—and hopefully a bipartisan agenda— that can over the next five years place Americans firmly on a path toward dealing with climate change, and at the same time produce large amounts of reliable, clean energy that lifts family incomes in our country and around the world. 

I would like to include in the record:

1)    An op-ed in the New York Times, authored by Richard Muller, a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley: “The Conservsion of a Climate-Change Skeptic” and

2)    An address I made in Oak Ridge in 2008 calling for a “New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy Independence.”