Unfairly or not, any discussion of the Republican party’s environmental record by clean energy advocates often includes a mention of the White House solar panels ditched under Ronald Reagan. Green-minded members of the Grand Old Party, on the other hand, would rather point to the birth of the Environmental Protection Agency under Richard Nixon. Either way, in what’s clearly a sign of the times, renewables featured high on the minds of three former GOP secretaries of state who popped up at various energy conferences in the San Francisco Bay Area this past week (One can only assume the timing was a coincidence).
George Schultz, who served under Reagan, probably surprised at least a few people when he counted himself as among those EV1 owners still regretting GM’s controversial scrapping of the electric car earlier this decade. A Stanford professor and Hoover Institution fellow for the past two decades, Schultz had enjoyed driving it around campus. “I could even drive it up to San Francisco. I couldn’t go too many other places, but it’s a very useful car,” he said. “I was sorry to see that car taken off the market, it worked just fine.” Speaking at a meeting of energy economists last week alongside Chevron’s David O’Reilly, Schultz went on to join the oil company CEO in endorsing a carbon tax as more efficient than the cap-and-trade system favored by Congress.
On Monday, Condoleezza Rice also favored a carbon tax when she addressed the Silicon Valley Energy Summit at Stanford, where she too is a professor and Hoover fellow, while stressing the importance of not picking winners in the push for greener energy. “At this stage, we need to have an open field for all renewable alternatives to change the energy mix,” she said.
Just down the road in Palo Alto the next day, the secretary of state under George Bush Sr., James Baker, ranked climate change alongside nuclear proliferation, the economy and wars as a leading global threat. “I’m not going to talk about the science of it, ’cause I don’t understand it,” he told a meeting on clean energy arranged by law firm Baker Botts. Yet he felt, as an outdoorsman, that good stewardship of the planet was vital, even if he saw the current climate change bill in Congress as flawed. He suggested it should be passed, but left unsigned by the president until big developing countries like China and India made similar moves against carbon, holding the bill back as a bargaining chip. “That’s Negotiation 101,” he later told Reuters.
Photo credits: Above: General Motors publicity photo of the EV1 passenger car. Below: REUTERS/Ron Sachs/Handout (Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks to supporters of the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital in Washington, in this handout image from May 3, 2009)