National goals for energy and education in America

By Steve Kirsch
March 20, 2002
Version 14

Latest version:

Executive summary

There are many areas that are critical to the US, such as energy and education, where we need clear leadership from Washington if we are going to make any substantial progress. We are not getting that leadership today. We are in last place in education (on an international scale) and we're heading towards an oil and environmental crisis of massive proportions. 

When lawmakers talk about winning elections, they talk in specifics: dates, numbers, races, priorities. But when they talk about energy and education, there are no long term goals that we can hold them accountable for and there is no long term strategy. There are only general principles like "invest in fuel cells" or "we need better teachers" and policies that are consistent with those principles. That's a good start, but we could, should and must do a lot better than that if we are really serious about having an impact on these problems.

Our lawmakers should be approaching these major issues exactly like they approach winning elections: 

  • establish a vision, 
  • select a few key long term goals (with numbers and dates), 
  • use a responsible process to create a credible business plan for achieving the goals. The plan should have strategies, tactics, and measurable milestones which are all aligned and focused towards achieving the goals 
  • enlist others to join in support of the effort
  • be consistent over time

The business plan also provides a consistent framework for the creation and evaluation of current and future legislation as well as providing a consistent platform for political campaigns (both parties and Presidential candidates).

The best way to develop a business plan is not the traditional approach of having a senior staffer assemble the data and create a bill. We must think longer term than a single bill. A superior way is an iterative process that begins with a carefully selected group of no more than five world-class experts in the particular area who are given the appropriate direction to come up one or more viable plans. A single plan is then selected and adopted.

While this sounds obvious, it's not been done for energy nor for education, nor for any other major area that I'm aware of. This is what needs to change.

Once you have a great plan, you need support for it. Unfortunately, it's difficult to get traction for a responsible plan without creating a new Washington DC based organization that can work with Congress and is highly skilled in the art of messaging. In short, the second "missing link" to make progressive plans work is to create a "white hat" version of the Heritage Foundation that can promote responsible policies to Americans on the top issues facing us today. Brookings is all about research and marketing facts and the Heritage Foundation is all marketing opinions. There is a major difference. 

This new organization is described in The progressive's messaging problem. The focus of this document is on the creation of viable business plans for top issues.


Requirements for goals 

Energy independence is a goal you hear a lot about in Washington today... .from every member of Congress. The only way we'll achieve energy independence is to move to fuel cell vehicles. So we should have a complete fuel cell vehicle commercialization plan today, with dates and milestones and an incentive strategy for manufacturers, consumers, and service stations all aligned behind that plan. But there is no plan today. No focus. No milestones. Nothing. There isn't even the most basic decision on which technology to incentivize: on-board reformers or direct H2 (it's tempting to say "both" but that would be the worst possible decision as pointed out below).

We need a leader who step up to the plate and say “here is the vision” and “these are the five most important goals for us to pursue over the next 20 years” and “here’s a really credible plan of how we’re going to achieve those goals." The plan must contain numbers, dates, the focus area, the strategy, and it should survive  independent validation. The leader must rally those members of Congress who care about the future of our country to support these goals, and those members must recruit other members.

The goals we set for ourselves must include dates and numbers so that there is accountability. They must be few in number so there is focus. Lastly, these goals must be backed up with a credible plan to achieve the goals. The plan must include milestones and credible strategies that are all aligned to achieve these goals. "All the wood behind one arrow."

In other words, we need a business plan for energy and a business plan for education and we need to apply the same “business planning” that we now use for political campaigns to education and energy.

The visions, goals, and strategies described here are only examples of the type of thinking we need. I'm not proposing that this is the plan and has all the answers.. I'm proposing that this document provides some of the thinking and the inspiration and the process for putting together a great plan. It's a starting point. I know that people will disagree with these goals and that there are better goals and better strategies.  To develop a great set of goals, I'd suggest following the process I outline at the end.

A great set of goals is optimum, but a decent set of goals is far better than not having any goals at all. What does matter is this:

We choose our vision and measurable goals wisely
We pick a single vision for each area. Visions are a final result that we know we will never attain, but that we strive for. Then we select a small set of high level, meaningful and measurable goals that will truly make substantial progress in realizing the vision. These are long term goals, not goals we’ll be likely to achieve in a single piece of legislation. Unlike the vision, these goals must be specific and attainable.

The strategies are credible to achieve the goals
Great goals without realistic strategies are a losing proposition. The strategies must be credible and pass review by leading experts. Whenever possible, we encourage people to choose strategies based on what is proven to work, not on what they think might or should work. In other words, if you can, copy what works. There is no reason to innovate if you don’t have to; in fact the most innovative companies I know just adopt best practices from other companies! This is particularly true in education where there are many lessons from other countries that we irrationally refuse to learn; we must overcome our NIH (“not invented here”) bias where we refuse to adopt “best practices” that aren’t invented in the US.

We are consistent and persistent
The goals should not change over time. They establish a consistent framework established for creating and evaluating legislation and policy over a long period of time, up to 50 years in some cases.

We increase our support base over time
We consistently increase the number of people who care about the future of our country to support our goals and strategies. Don't expect everyone to rally behind these goals tomorrow. But if you are consistent, more and more people will join your list of supporters over time. Wouldn't it be great if all the 2004 democratic presidential candidates shared the same goals? They can differentiate their campaigns with their own unique strategies, but having a common set of goals that are shared between the candidates gives our candidates more credibility and gives the goals more credibility.

In summary, we need a leader who will articulate the vision, the goals, and drive the strategies. Who will that be?

Grand, noble visions work

In 1961, JFK said he wanted us to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. That goal was simple, bold, precise, and measurable.  There was a date, and it was a stretch. He didn’t waiver. Apollo 11 touched down on July 20, 1969. He challenged the country to a single goal and the country rose to the challenge. That’s the kind of thinking we need for education and energy. It’s the same type of thinking we use for political campaigns today!

Let’s examine the differences of what we are saying today...

Subject How members of Congress talk about our goals
Congressional elections (both parties) Specific dollar amounts must be raised by specific days. Specific names of candidates. There is also prioritization of where resources will be deployed. There are known "critical" races. All party members know the goals and the strategies. All resources are aligned to the strategy.
Energy (democrats) We talk about general principles like investment in fuel cells or transmission infrastructure. There is no shared vision. There are no dates. There are no numeric goals. Nobody is articulating any specific goals at all. Therefore, there is no strategy to achieve these non-existent goals. No strategy, no alignment. No independent validation that the strategy will achieve the goal. Nothing will happen this way. 
Energy (Republicans) Republicans talk about the problem of foreign dependence but then ignore the proven solutions, fail to prioritize the options based on an objective cost-benefit analysis, and pitch a temporary solution which has virtually no impact (ANWR). What matters is only votes and jobs today. They never point out that our foreign oil dependence continues to rise even if we drill in ANWR. If there is a disruption of foreign oil, it can be blamed on other countries or on the Democrats, rather than a lack of contingency planning by Republicans. 

We are left with a lot of unanswered questions:

  • How we can be CONFIDENT that your plan reduces foreign oil dependence (since it still increases under ANWR)?
  • What is the plan for when something happens in the Middle East? Panic?
  • Is there any independent validation based on sound science that your plan will achieve your goal of reducing our foreign dependence? Is your plan plan endorsed by any independent, non-partisan organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences?  
  • How did you prioritize the options to achieve the goal of independence?
  • If you don't support raising CAFE standards, then how will you deal with $5/gal gas and gas rationing that will continue to get worse and worse over time?
Pick a topic Congress or the President typically propose adopting a policy that has never been tested or proven to achieve the desired (usually never quantified) outcome. We should be replicating what works, not doing national "mass experiments."  When was the last time Congress adopted a policy that has been proven on a smaller scale to achieve the desired outcome? As I am writing this, Bush has proposed to overhaul welfare reform and the proposals aren't based on replicating a success model. Why don't they try these ideas on a small scale first to make sure they work?

In a political campaign, we DON’T say: “we’re going to take back the House by winning a lot of seats and raising a lot of money for democratic candidates.” What we DO say is: “We’ve got to raise $70M by June. We’re going to raise 30% of it in this state, and 70% of it these states. Here’s our calendar of the 42 fundraisers we’re doing next month. There are 16 key races we need to win and 5 of those need $4M.”

Now look at the way we talk about education and energy. We use non-specifics. When speaking about energy we say “we need better transmission infrastructure” and “we need to incentivize alternative fuels.” When we talk about education, we say “we need accountability” or “we need smaller class sizes.” That won’t do if we want to really solve these problems. We need goals that are higher level that, if solved, really address the heart of the issue. For example, a goal of "smaller class sizes" is meaningless; it's not a desired outcome that moves us ahead in the world. The goals must measurable, meaningful, have dates and quantities, and we need a strategy aligned behind achieving the goals.

Let’s take a crack at doing this for education and energy.


The problems

We're leaving EVERY children behind
“No child left behind” is a joke if you know the facts. But most Americans don’t know the facts because the press isn’t highlighting them and because nobody in Congress is consistently articulating this simple indisputable fact: we’re leaving EVERY child behind. Even though we think we are doing well, that’s only because we’re so arrogant as to ignore how we stand relative to the rest of the world. Open your eyes and you'll find that we’re in virtual last place on an international scale. The facts are unambiguous. The TIMSS data is beyond reproach. The data clearly shows that the longer kids are in our school system, the further behind they fall (relative to other countries). By the time they graduate from high school, our kids are among the worst educated in the world. It’s not because other countries educate only their brightest kids. And it’s not because of our diversity either. These are just excuses to escape being held accountable. Consider this fact: our top students (top 10%) performed at the international mean...the same as Singapore's worst 15%! Second fact: when our schools adopt the methods of other countries, our performance skyrockets (see details below). Third fact: go to any university in the US and you’ll find that the foreign students are better educated than the US students.

Even on our own tests, we fall behind. For example, in California (which educates 1 out of every 8 kids in the US), 48% of both 4th and 8th graders test at the "below basic" level in math in NAEP 2000, which is our own national assessment! So we are seriously below our own standards as well as international standards. 

Our education inferiority is showing up in industry as well. For example, my company just completed a training for 11 customers on our database acceleration product; only 3 of the 11 people spoke English as their native language. And the problem is not limited just to a few subjects like science and math. 

Those are just symptoms of a much larger problem. So if we want to fix our science and math problem, we can't do it microscopically; we have to look at the bigger picture.

Our high school dropout rate is unacceptably high
Our high school dropout rate exceeds 33% in half of the 100 largest school districts in the US. In Dallas and New York City, the high school drop rate is 50%. That’s unacceptable. What good is a goal of “smaller class sizes” if there is a 50% dropout rate? What good is having great teachers if there is no one to teach?

It’s inescapable: we’re leaving all our kids behind, it’s our fault, and we have the ability to fix the problem if we have the guts to change the way we educate our kids and adopt international best practices for education.

I've talked to one US Senator who said, "That can't be right; the US has the best educated and most productive workforce in the world!" The answer is simple: I'm talking about K-12 education only. We do well as a country because we have an excellent higher education system (not regulated by local school boards!), because we have a large population (and therefore, even if the mean of the bell shaped curve is shifted left, there is still a lot more better educated people in America than other countries), we have a reasonable political and socio-economic system, and, we've been lucky to have had enough great leaders over time that have put in place sufficient laws to keep the place humming. As for K-12 education, I can relate anecdote after anecdote that leads to the same inescapable conclusion: we've leaving all our kids behind.

Suggested vision

  • Our schools are the best in the world and every child in the US graduates from high school.

Suggested goals

  • #1 on an international scale by 2020 in science and math
  • A high school dropout rate less than 10% in 80% of schools in every state by 2010

Our approach today

The latest education bill isn’t going to make a dent in either of these goals. Testing and accountability won’t get us to international parity. It won’t decrease the dropout rate. It won’t allow us to fire bad teachers in California. It won’t allow us to pay more for good teachers. It will simply move students from one bad school to another. And it means that teachers will teach to the test. Our students will become great test takers and cheaters. Real learning will decline as more and more classroom time is spent on teaching to the test. Thank you George Bush! 

In Texas, when they put in a similar testing and accountability system (the TASS test), pass rates on another important Texas test, the TASP test (Texas's own state college prep test), plummeted every single year since it went into effect ...from an 85% pass rate in 1993 (start of TASS testing) to a 40% pass rate in 1998 (5 years later). Too bad the press never reported that the American public or anyone in Congress brought it up when the education bill was being discussed. Pass rates on the test you are officially measured on go up. Pass rates on tests you don’t drill for everyday go down. NAEP scores don’t move at all in a period when TASS scores are soaring. Not a lot of real learning. Just great test taking ability and cheating.

We talk about accountability for schools. But we should be talking about giving principals the budget (resources) and authority to succeed. I've always been taught that you’ve got give people what they need to succeed before you can hold someone accountable. We’re basically doing it backwards. It’s like telling an airline pilot “we didn’t have the budget to fill your plane up with gas, and your co-pilot can’t fly the plane but we can’t fire him, and we’re going to hold you accountable if you don’t reach the destination.”

Obey-Porter was a bill with great intentions. It provides schools an incentive to adopt whole-school reform programs with a proven success track record. But in order to get enough votes to pass in Congress, Obey had to water down the provisions so much that now virtually any reform program qualifies for the incentive, whether it works or not. There’s no standard for judging effectiveness. So we are now spending a lot of money and effort to go absolutely nowhere.

There are people who think “choice” is the solution. Or more local control. Or charter schools. Give me a break. We’ve been trying local control for the last 200 years. When you count all the local school districts (over 30,000), we’ve had tens of thousands of different experiments going on. Some schools we have in the US are in fact comparable to the best in the rest of the world. But our objective is to educate all Americans, not provide only a small handful of good schools. In short, we have got to move to a system which moves all kids ahead or we won’t impact our averages at all. 

And lastly, “competition” isn’t the answer. Schools aren’t free-market businesses. For example, schools can’t fire teachers or adjust salaries to keep a teacher like a business. So don’t expect free-market solutions like competition to be effective if the schools are constrained by labor unions, bureaucracies, state regulations and inadequate budgets. Free market principles only work when the entities have the freedom to change.

Approaches to fixing education in America so that we are #1, rather than in virtual last place Result
Use testing and demand accountability, but DO NOT give schools the guidance, authority, and resources necessary to succeed. Cheating and "teaching to the test". Only scores on the "high stakes" test improve. Example: Texas's TASS scores have soared while NAEP scores have remained flat and Texas's own TASP scores have plummeted.
Provide money for any whole school reform program, regardless of whether it works or not. We spend a lot of government money to achieve nothing since most programs don't work.
Study why other countries are succeeding and adapt these "best practices" to America in a way that can be replicated in American schools Schools which have adopted NCEE's America's Choice program (which is based on 11 years studying international best practices) have seen dramatic improvements after only 12 months according to independent tests conducted by CPRE.

A new approach

We need a plan we can all be confident will work. 

We are so far behind other countries that we must make some very fundamental changes in the way we do things. We simply cannot continue to do the same things over and over again and expect different results. There is no quick fix, no magic technology. Dramatic change is absolutely required

This isn’t rocket science folks. We already know the answer. It’s so simple. If we want to be as good as the best, we must abandon the way we do things now and copy what they do. The result is that at worst, you are at parity with the best countries in the world. Is that so bad? I think it's a hell of a lot better than being in last place like we are now!

You simply copy what works in countries that have the best record on education. Once you’ve copied their techniques to achieve parity, then, and only then, do you innovate from there to see if you can do better. This is just like the Japanese did to us. 

In 200 US schools (scattered all over the country) that have implemented those techniques from other countries, test scores have skyrocketed. So we know it works and we know the techniques can be imported. What are we waiting for? So why aren’t we doing this?

Two reasons: arrogance and national pride. We can only overcome that if we have the right political leadership. That leadership starts with one person. Who will it be? John Kerry? Joe Lieberman? Dick Gephardt? Tom Daschle? John Edwards? Ted Kennedy? What are they waiting for?

Researchers NCEE spent 11 years and $50M studying the best practices in other countries. They know why we’re behind other countries. We haven’t corrected the problem nationally so we’re still behind. Has anyone in Congress asked, “What exactly are those countries doing that we aren’t? And why aren’t we adopting those techniques?” The answer is pretty simple: other countries have very strong standards, and they have aligned the curriculum and assessments with those standards. Everything’s aligned. All of the leading countries that do better than we do have had national standards. But we’re too arrogant and independent to acknowledge that national standards are good (even President George Bush Sr. called for them and doesn't father know best?). 

We don’t seem to give a crap what’s best for students because it isn’t the “American way.” We care more about educational philosophy than we do about results. Local control is more important that whether this really benefits the kids. So that’s why we have over 50 national standards. Nebraska alone has 6 standards. Some states have no standards. And because textbooks are only written for the standards of the 3 biggest states, we only get alignment of materials and the standards in those 3 states. The other 47 are all unaligned. We’ve got to fix this. The states have had plenty of time to make it work. We’ve got to get over our religious attachment to “this is the way it should be” and ignore what actually works. We need a leader that is going to come up and say “Look folks, we’re in last place internationally. We need massive change. Those 200 US schools are examples that we can have the best schools in the world. We’re going to incentivize all schools to adopt the reforms that have proven to work in these schools.”

Key strategies

Optional national standards
Face the facts. If we want to fix things, the trick is really alignment and national standards is the most expedient way to achieve alignment. Every other country has them except us. We're in last place. Are we stupid or just arrogant? Politically, the best strategy to get to national standards is to have as a first goal the creation of optional national standards created in a non-political objective manner where the standards are based on benchmarking against the best standards in the world. This is nothing more than adopting "best practices" for standards. States and local districts could add additional standards on top of the national standards, but the national standards would set a required “baseline” for everyone in America. In effect, we test our kids against a national standard today with NAEP and with the SAT. So why not acknowledge it? The most expedient approach to solving this issue is to adopt the New Standards Performance Standards that is used and proven by NCEE. We’d be adopting a proven set of standards that works in the US and which was developed in consultation with several states. And we can use that as “revision 1” and get started immediately. Then, in parallel, we can empower as task force to come out with an improved “version 2” at a later date. Incentivize, but do not require, states to adopt these national standards. This allows states control. Those states who spurn the national standards will find their students will fall behind and there will be tremendous pressure for state lawmakers to adopt the national standards if they are truly great standards. So we incentivize rather than mandate these standards. It is an option for states who care about education.

Align the standards, curricula, and assessments
Once national standards are adopted, curricula and assessments aligned with those standards will become available through free enterprise. The government might assist in providing research to benchmark these materials so that states can intelligently pick the best materials without having to have each state pay the expense of benchmarking each textbook for effectiveness.

Give schools the guidance, resources, and authority to succeed
Our schools are wired for failure. Did you know that it is virtually impossible to fire a bad teacher in California? Thanks to California state's teacher-tenure law, lifetime job security is virtually guaranteed; approximately zero tenured teachers were fired in California in the last 10 years. In fact, the state doesn't even track this number! (See the excellent PRI report "Unsatisfactory Performance" for details). Are we nuts? Isn't it time we stopped dreaming? Is our goal to lifetime employment for teachers or providing the best teachers? Are we trying to help teachers or students? We better decide and then align the policies to the goals. I always thought the idea is to support students. But state governments still haven't figured this out yet as this example shows. This is the "benefit" of local control.

You clearly can't continue to leave it in the hands of the states. Look what happens in California, for example. NAEP 2000 results: California ranked second to last in fourth-grade reading skills - only 1 out of 5 students are considered proficient readers. In fact, 52 percent of fourth-graders scored below the "basic" level, meaning they failed to even partially master fundamental skills. And the impact in this case is enormous since California educates 1 out of 8 kids in the entire country. So the feds need to step in to help encourage states to fix their regulations and processes. We can't just hope states will fix it. We tried that for 200 years. Isn't it time for a change?

We must create incentives so that states and local districts require schools to operate like businesses with the principal as the CEO with authority to set compensation and hire and fire teachers and other staff. We must provide "best practices" training for all school principals: they need to know what we've found works so well in other countries. We should make available to all schools for free (paid for by state or federal government) any other whole school reform program that is based on best practices and objectively proven to be replicable and achieve superior performance (such as NCEE America's Choice program). We must pay our best teachers generously so that we can retain them. Pay should be based on performance, just like any other business. Pay scales should be adjusted so that we no longer have teaching shortages and so that we can attract and retain the best and the brightest teachers. We should never be losing a teacher because of lousy pay. The teaching “shortages” we face nationwide is a reflection of poor salaries. It’s basic supply and demand. But we try to combat this the wrong way: forgiving student loans may cause some people to enter teaching. But until we fix the pay issue, they aren’t going to stay. Teachers are the most important people in America. Create incentives so that states allocate adequate funding for schools sufficient to attract and retain the best and the brightest teachers.

For more info on education, see Education Reform Proposal (Executive Summary) and hyperlinks from that document.


The problems

Dependence on foreign oil is very risky
60% dependence on foreign oil  creates a national security problem because foreign oil supplies can be disrupted. 90% of our net energy imported is from oil and 66% of that is used for transportation. We import 12M bpd of oil so at $17/barrel, i.e., we spend $75B per year, 18% of which goes to Saudi Arabia (see Saudi Arabia energy oil information). Domestically, we burn about 20M bpd of oil which is roughly 25% of worldwide oil use.

ANWR isn't the answer
According to the US Dept of the Interior, ANWR oil might hold 5 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil (at $24/barrel). In fact, it will take 10 years before we see any oil from ANWR and 25 years before production reaches a peak. Even at the peak production rate, ANWR would supply only 2% of our oil needs. Even if this oil could all be extracted starting in 10 years from now on an "as needed" basis and even if we could completely keep our rate of consumption flat, then the ANWR oil could power our country for only 250 days. What then?

At the current rate of growth in oil consumption, there is less than 55 years of economically recoverable oil left on the entire planet so we better start doing something now about it NOW
Taking into account probable future oil discoveries, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that between 1.4 trillion and 2.1 trillion barrels of oil remain to be produced worldwide (see Oil Supplies -- Are We Really Running Out of Oil). Let's take the high end. Suppose we have about 2.1 trillion barrels of recoverable oil. Worldwide, we burned 75.5M barrels per day (bpd) in 1999 and each year, the rate goes up by 1M bpd. So if these consumption trends continue, we have about 55 years before there is no oil left that can be economically recovered. It took 100 million years to create the oil that we are going to burn through in 100 years. We're dumping pollution into the atmosphere at a rate 1 million times faster than it was put into the ground. 

We simply cannot continue business as usual or we’ll slam into a brick wall (“out of oil”) at 600 miles an hour. Unless we reduce our consumption, we will soon start seeing rising costs since our demand is outstripping our rate of production and discovery; they aren’t making any more oil. That means oil prices will go through the roof at some point in the near future and never return (that price rise should reduce consumption and make alternatives more attractive so that the 55 year doomsday scenario doesn't occur). Delaying CAFE standards just accelerates the rate at which we'll hit the wall and costs everyone more money. We've got to stop thinking that oil is an infinite resource. 

You can argue that the reserve estimates are wrong or that we'll invent better extraction technologies. But what if you are wrong? Can you be certain you are right? Shell's assessment is that oil resources will become scarce at the earliest by 2025. Another U.S. DOE report assumes a likely peak in conventional oil production to be 2020. (See NRDC oil report for more info). 

Air pollution isn’t getting any better
Many states do not meet state or federal clean air guidelines. California will never have compliant air quality at the current rate of improvement. While we've made tremendous progress in air pollution over the past 20 years, rates of improvement have slowed considerably recently (see  1999 National Air Quality Trends Report). Some parts of the country have seen increases in ozone levels in the past 10 yrs PM10 levels have decreased over the past 10 yrs, but increased slightly recently. For PM2.5 it's hard to tell, but it appears that no real progress has been made over the past 10 yrs.

Global warming is getting progressively worse, not better, every year
As with air pollution, this is something that you don't easily fix. The fact that it's getting worse year after year is an extremely bad sign. Concentrations of CO2 in atmosphere are 30% higher than 150 yrs ago and will continue to increase since CO2 emissions are going up nationally and globally. We need a massive change to fix this. We emit a quarter of the greenhouse gases in the world. We've got to stop looking the other way because the longer we wait, the higher the price we'll have to pay. It's always cheaper not to pollute in the first place than to try to clean up the mess later. 

Suggested vision

  • Our country is 100% powered from 100% domestic clean, safe renewable energy sources ensuring stable low-cost energy prices and supplies while enhancing domestic economic growth and prosperity without negatively impacting the environment. We export our technology to other countries to reduce the threat of global warming and progressively improve the global environment.

Suggested goals

  • Eliminate our dependence on foreign oil by 2050. We want to be spending over $75B a year enriching Americans and creating American jobs and helping the American economy, not sending it overseas to help foreign governments and help fund foreign terrorist groups. Alternative goal: Reduce our dependence on foreign oil to xx bbl/day by 20xx.
  • 25% use of renewables by 2020 (or maybe even more since this is well below that of some other countries)
  • Only allow 100% renewable power plants to be built after 2020
  • Reduce the amount of US greenhouse gas emissions to ____ by 2020

Suggested milestones

  • Increase CAFE standards to require a 35-mpg average across all vehicles by 2013. Station wagons disappeared and SUV's were created to circumvent the law. Most of the time these super heavy vehicles have one driver. Time to fix that.
  • Virtually eliminate the sale of new fossil fuel powered vehicles by 2020. 
  • Commercially sell over 100,000 H2 direct FCVs by 2010. Note that it is absolutely critical that the goal is H2 direct, rather than FCVs with on-board H2 reformers. See below for details. This is a critical intermediate milestone.

Our approach today

We put forth energy plans that are virtually all policies without any real accountability or alignment. For example, the Cheney plan just says we should continue to research fuel cells and provide tax credits only for FCVs purchased before 2007 (which is before any mass commercial availability of FCVs). That won’t accomplish our goals of reducing our foreign oil dependence or reducing green house gas emissions before we get into real trouble. He presents no goals, no intermediate milestones, and no credible plan to reduce our foreign oil dependence. Our foreign oil dependence will continue to climb under his plan, even if we drilled in ANWR as he suggests.

When I hear members of Congress talk about energy, I almost never hear any specifics. No dates. No numbers. No specific technologies. We say “clean energy is good and we will incentivize programs for fuel cells and other sources.” And they never talk about what the results will be and when they will occur. The policies are good, but if we want to get something done, this isn't the way to do it. We need two or three clear high level goals (such as the ones above) that there is agreement and alignment behind. Otherwise, we’ll spend decades and billions of dollars needlessly. Not very sound economic or environmental policy. We could be doing much more.

So without real leadership, the whole process slows down. 

A better approach

The nation doesn't need an energy policy that rewards the market for going where it wants to go. It needs a policy that corrects the market's failure to put the cost of pollution and energy inefficiency on the producers and consumers of fossil fuel.

It needs a policy that goes prospecting for oil under the hood -- by making vehicles more efficient -- instead of under the tundra.

We need a plan we can all be confident will work.

Look at the data. Our biggest problem is dependence on foreign oil because it’s a national security risk and because it holds us hostage and because it’s a continual drain on our economy with dollars flowing overseas that could be spent domestically, enriching Americans rather than Saudis. So we need to ask...ok, where are we using it? The answer is transportation. Next we ask “we have a problem with air pollution and global warming; what is the biggest contributor?” The answer again is transportation. Bottom line is that if we want to “move the needle” as far as energy goes, IF we can address the oil use in mobile sources (cars and trucks primarily), we can make a HUGE impact. And it turns out that we can move the needle here. The answer is fuel cell technology for powering cars, trucks, and buses. And the sooner we get this done, the sooner we’ll reap all the benefits. We need an “Apollo project” for FCVs.

Check out the chart below. I hear lots of Senators talking about how critical it is to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but few Senators seem to be able to take a look at the options and select an option that will get us there.

Oil displacement option Impact on reducing our dependence on foreign oil Notes
Drill in ANWR Virtually zero and it's only temporary  Imperceptible difference. The amount of oil is too small, it's too late, and it's more than offset by the increased demand. Our dependence continues to get worse every year under this approach. 

Republicans should make a list of the available options for reducing our foreign oil dependence, then give it to an independent non-partisan organization to determine the cost benefits. Of the available options, ANWR would rank dead last (See Amory Lovins, "Fools Gold"). So why is it a "must have"? That makes no logical sense.

The billions we'd spend on this would be better off if used to get to FCV's quicker or in incentivizing the production (or purchase of) higher mileage cars and pickups. So pursuing ANWR would actually make the situation worse, not better, due to the diversion of finite funds that could have been deployed on more effective solutions.

Raise CAFE standards Stabilizes for as long as we continue to raise standards  We'd have to continue to raise CAFE standards every year to stabilize our dependence. Otherwise, it will get worse. The CAFE standards should apply across all vehicle types because this will increase consumer choice (for some people, a station wagon is fine but the CAFE standards made them obsolete because they weren't light trucks). See NRDC's "Dangerous Addiction" report.
Switch to H2 direct FCVs Reduces. Permanent. This is our only option if we want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The sooner we phase these vehicles in, the better. 

We should only incentivize H2 direct FCVs. H2 direct FCVs are superior to FCVs with on-board reformers because direct H2 vehicles use no fossil fuels whatsoever and because the H2 can be produced by a wide variety of methods.

Anything else you can think of No impact America's transportation is 97% oil dependent so you need a major change to the transportation system to have an impact on imported oil. CAFE and FCVs are only viable approaches that can really make a dent here. 

Next we look at the technology. Amory Lovins says Detroit, if properly incentivized, could produce a fuel cell SUV at the same cost of today’s SUVs within 6 years, i.e., by 2008. This is a really important point. Others would confirm this.  Even GM spokesmen have told me that they could be in commercial production with FCVs by 2010. So we have the technology, but without stimulus from Washington, it’s hard to break the chicken-egg problem because car manufacturers have two reasons not to change: (1) they have a huge tooling and R&D investment in gas cars and (2) there is no H2 fueling infrastructure. Technology transitions are never easy, but Washington has the clout to break the cycle. The sooner we break it with a credible plan and incentives, the better.

There are two basic approaches to FCVs: you can power them with H2 directly, or you can have an on-board reformer and power them with a fossil fuel, such as gas or methanol. Both approaches are viable and economically about the same total cost at the end of the day (ignoring environmental impact).  So without direction from Washington, both might compete in the market. This would be very bad because it would reduce the economies of scale for everyone. The reformer market would fragment into all sorts of source fuels. The direct h2 market would suffer because there would be less dollars to pour into infrastructure. It’s like a startup company with finite resources trying to tackle two products instead of one. So if Washington can pick one, we can end the ambiguity and be a lot more efficient. We can put “all the wood behind one arrow” and really nail this problem. 

On-board reformers are the safest route because they can use the existing fueling infrastructure. But it is not the preferred route because there are critical downsides: 1) gas would be the fuel for these vehicles so it doesn’t eliminate our oil dependence, 2) the output is cleaner than a gas car, but not nearly as clean as a pure H2 FCV which is zero emission, and 3) it would add unnecessary cost and weight to the car.

Roland Hwang of NRDC wrote me:

On-board reformer vehicles will have substantially lower energy efficiency then a HFCVs. A gasoline/clean hydrocarbon reformer FCV will probably be no better than a good hybrid in terms of efficiency and GHGs. Also, the reformers will slow down the commercialization of the vehicles, since they are costly and complex. HFCV can be out in the mkt in substantial quantities in the 2010 timeframe if we push hard, but a reformer FCV is probably 5+ yrs behind. We agree that the best strategy is to focus on developing a H2 infrastructure, and bypass the interim step of a reformer FCV, which is really a distraction and diversion of important resources.

Thus, the superior approach is for the government to only incentivize pure H2 powered FCVs and not vehicles with on-board reformers. The vehicles are cheaper (because there isn’t the extra reformer) and completely non-polluting. They consume no oil or fossil fuels whatsoever. In fact, their tailpipe emissions are cleaner than the outside air. So we make the largest possible dent in the oil dependence and pollution problems for each vehicle sold. The only downside is that the government must incentivize the creation of a fueling infrastructure. This is a chicken-egg problem, but it can be tackled with proper incentives. We can start off with fleet sales or sales to consumers who install in-home electrolyzers. So we can sell cars without an huge infrastructure outlay. For example, I drive an electric car with a 120 mile range and my only charger is at home. I meet 99% of my driving needs with this car. I’m not atypical.

Key strategies for the CAFE milestone

  • Continually raise fossil fuel economy (CAFE) standards. Technology exists that, if deployed, could raise the average fuel economy of automobiles to 40 miles per gallon (the current average is 24, the lowest since 1980). That would save about 2.5 million barrels a day by 2020 -- just about the same amount the United States imports from the Persian Gulf region (Source: National Academy of Sciences)
  • Institute a gas tax that would account for environmental damage. Proceeds of the gas tax could be used to fund incentives for zero-polluting technologies, ideally in the transportation section, such as rebates or tax credits for fuel cell vehicles. Another way to do this is a revenue neutral feebate system where purchasers and/or users of polluting vehicles are charged a fee proportional to the amount of pollution and those fees are paid to those purchasing/using zero-emission vehicles.

Key strategies for the FCV milestone

  • Government announces that only direct H2 powered FCVs are what will be incentivized and aligns all incentives behind this one strategy. Car manufacturers can do anything they want, but only the direct h2 FCVs would be eligible for federal incentives.
  • Government provides incentives for consumers, manufacturers, and service stations to purchase, sell, and create infrastructure for h2 FCVs. This is what we mean by the phrase "all the wood behind one arrow." For a manufacturer incentive for example, the government could create a $4B "Golden Carrot" reward fund to be split in 2010 between American car makers who sell >10,000 direct-h2 powered FCVs in 2010 and the split is based on how many vehicles they sell. There is nothing like creating a little healthy free market competition to create a sense of pride and urgency! Both auto companies and environmental groups would support this. It would create jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, reduce $ sent overseas to buy oil, reduce the cost of gas, create a sense of pride, reduce global warming, reduce pollution. And if you say there is no reward unless the sum of all vehicles sold is 100,000 or more, unlike most other government projects, there is no risk for the government since the government only pays out the reward if the goal is accomplished.
  • Create a "venture capital" pool for FCV technology and companies. Give $1B to prominent VC companies and split the winnings with the VC companies. This ensures proper oversight and gets everyone's interests aligned.

Key strategies for eliminating fossil fuel powered vehicles milestone

  • Impose heavy additional taxes placed on the sale of any new vehicle powered by fossil fuels. This tax is to assess the environmental cost to clean up the lifetime pollution from such vehicles. This is no different than what we do for power plants today in trading emission credits. Only now, there are no more free credits and if you want to pollute, you must pay the costs of cleaning up that pollution. The more pollution your vehicle emits, the higher the cleanup tax. It's a market-based solution that finally recognizes that there is truly a cost of pollution.
  • Raise the emission standards and CAFE standards

Key strategies for the renewable portfolio goal

  • Pick a date beyond which no power plant will be permitted that has emissions beyond an IGCC with CO2 sequestration (i.e., clean coal). That should be the dirtiest plant that we permit. There is no excuse for permitting anything dirtier.
  • We should heavily incentivize wind power with CAES (underground compressed air energy storage) and beef up existing interstate transmission grid to accommodate this power. We have enough wind power in just 4 states to power the entire country. Let’s start using it whenever we need more power. Set a dollar figure and a date and capacity milestones that we want to achieve for wind.
  • Nuclear doesn't seem a part of our future. We have enough wind power in a few states to power the country. A solar array 100 miles in diameter placed on government property in Nevada could also power the entire country. Excess energy generated during the day can be stored for delivery at night (e.g., CAES). So why would we need more nuclear plants?
  • There are many other strategies... this is just a starting point.

Key strategies for the greenhouse gas goal

  • Use a market-based and revenue-neutral instrument such as a carbon tax or an emissions cap-and-trade system to reflect the "hidden" costs to society of carbon emissions.

A superior process for developing a vision, goals, and strategies

Suppose you are running for President. What's the best way to pick your goals and strategies? Use the ones here? Ask the DNC? Delegate to a staffer to work with the appropriate organizations in the subject area? Adopt the ones from your opponent and change them?

Here's the approach I'd recommend for each major area. Carefully select no more than 5 experts in the area who have the experience and diversity of opinion required to put together a great set of goals and strategies. These people should be people who make decisions based on facts rather than religion or politics. Resist the temptation to make the group bigger by drawing from various political constituencies for political cover. That is a mistake. In the early phase you are trying to figure out the plan. That's best done with a small group of really smart people. You can get political cover later after you've got a plan by creating a blue ribbon committee to validate and endorse the plan.

So, with the advice of one or two of the experts, you divide the problem into 5 major perspectives that you want to cover and you make a list of the best people for each perspective. Then you make calls to enlist their support, starting with the top person in each "bucket" until you get a "yes." Then you move on to the next bucket. That way, you ensure that if someone turns you down, you still have the best balanced policy committee.

Have the group meet for 1 or 2 days and come up with a set of goals and strategies. The worst case with 5 people is you get 5 different plans, but ideally there is some agreement and there may be 2 or 3 plans to choose from; if you get lucky, there's a single plan they all agree on. Then you listen to the experts discuss the merits and disadvantages of each of the plans. You select one of the plans or ask the group to do a second round based on your input. Repeat as necessary. Your output will be a responsible plan that you can send to a broader group of experts for feedback and their endorsement. Have your original expert group process this information and suggest a new version of the plan. Then your done. 

Your next step is to figure out how to position it to the public. Don't make the mistake of trying to craft a plan to appeal to the status quo. You want a plan that is going to work for the future of America. That means taking a stand and changing public opinion.

The counter argument to this approach is to argue that leaders should just set the vision and goals and leave everything else to others. For example, JFK said he wanted a man on the moon, but he didn't present to the American people a credible plan for how to accomplish that goal. On the other hand, the next question the press would ask is, "That's easy to have those goals... can you tell us how are you going to accomplish that?" So that might be the time to point to the working group and their plan. For example, Bush said we need an energy plan and then tasked Cheney to do it and they came out with a plan. Right approach, but a poor plan.

Winning the PR war

These goals are useless if we can't get the votes to translates great plans into reality. That means we've got to change the way we formulate and deliver our messages to members of Congress. Please read see PR- The problem for details on how we can accomplish this. It's the highest leverage, most important thing we can do for the future of our country.

Additional resources

A national energy policy

Education Reform Proposal (Executive Summary) and hyperlinks at the bottom of that document.

Contract with the Planet (humor): the "State of Union" speech that we wished President Bush would have delivered