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Would GOP Success in November Mean Doom for Cleantech?

With 21st century politics at their most polarizing since the battles of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams (Alien & Sedition Acts anyone?), there is a lot of talk of hypotheticals based on various election scenarios for the House, Senate and White House. Speculation is that the expert predicted best case scenario for the GOP (maintain control of the House, even split in the Senate and capturing the White House) would be the worst case scenario for the cleantech industry.

There may be some truth to the notion that GOP-led houses and a Republican president would eliminate any chance of meaningful energy legislation at the Federal level that sets a renewable portfolio standard, caps carbon, pursues agressive regulation at the agency level or provides funding support for different cleantech industries. But unless the Democrats have a clear majority in the House and a super majority in the Senate, any such meaningful legislation is a pipe dream anyway. Let us not forget that energy is not a clear party-line vote with Democrats from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas and other states with heavy coal and oil interests unlikely to support anything that rocks a local economy.

So what then are the likely outcomes of different federal scenarios? I don’t believe there is a huge variation in impact based on the different election scenarios unless a super-majority situation unfolds which most experts agree, is very unlikely. There are a number of checks and balances that would prevent a GOP super majority situation from killing cleantech innovation and adoption. Some of these include:
 

  • The ability of California and other progressive states to continue most of their current and future initiatives;
  • The ability of state regulators to continue to enforce smart grid adoption and a modernizing of the grid;
  • Market-driven sustainability as a supply-chain cost cutter and product differentiator, and strong consumer sentiment for more sustainable products;
  • Billions in investment by strategic investors like Total, ABB, GE, Siemens and others in clean energy and efficiency products and services helping to support continued adoption, education and growth;
  • International leadership on climate change forcing US exporters to become more sustainable abroad.

Simply put, the clean technology industry is in much better shape than it was four years ago, when a crashing economy, rampant federal deregulation and support for legacy energy sources threatened any momentum lent to the sector by venture capitalists. Today, the sector could probably weather a worst-case election scenario. But will it have to? Most experts agree it is incredibly unlikely.

In fact, in one of his most recent posts, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com and the New York Times says that President Obama is now a 60-40 favorite to retain the White House based on recent polling and economic trends (projected GDP growth of 2.5% this year, and unemployment below 9%). This is not Silver’s opinion, but a prediction model based on historical data from past election cycles. That trend, combined with rampant gerrymandering of Congressional Districts by GOP-led state assemblies, means that we’re likely to wake up on a Wednesday in November with exactly the same government dynamics we have today. And don’t forget that the GOP would not only need a majority in the Senate, but a super majority that could overcome the parliamentary tricks of filibusters and stopping bills and appointees from coming to a vote.

So what does the status quo look like post November for cleantech? We’ll explore that in a post later this week.
     
 

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Jason Morris

Jason Morris

Executive Vice President at MSLGROUP

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