Sunday nights in America are famous for families sitting down and watching 60 Minutes. And while many people today may consider the news program “old school” millions of people still get their news from the show. This past Sunday night, 60 Minutes aired a piece, “The Cleantech Crash,” criticizing the Department of Energy’s investments in clean energy and the lack of advancement in advanced biofuels.
Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Council (AEC), responded to the negative portrayal of the cleantech industry and biofuels in general. “By engaging in a petty game of ‘gotcha’ with Silicon Valley, ‘60 Minutes’ missed the point when it comes to government support for innovation in the energy industry,” said Coleman. “The U.S. government helps companies get over the hump with new technologies not because they expect to succeed in all cases, but because a small number of successes can fundamentally change the American economy for decades.”
“The Department of Commerce recently found that ‘technological innovation’ is linked to three-quarters of the country’s post World War II economic growth rate. And while implying that clean energy investments are just too costly for the American taxpayer, ‘60 Minutes’ forgets to mention that 75 percent of Department of Energy (DOE) Research and Development dollars have been spent on nuclear and fossil fuel development over the last 60 years,” Coleman continued. “The picture has not changed all that much recently with 50 percent of those funds dedicated to fossil fuels and nuclear over the last decade. Renewable energy received less than 17 percent of DOE R&D expenditures from 2001-2010.”
Coleman said that Leslie Stahl and ‘60 Minutes’ also failed to point out why these programs are so critical to the clean energy sector. “These programs don’t exist in a vacuum. The federal government has helped the fossil fuel industry develop new technologies, build out infrastructure and make tax free investments for nearly 100 years. The energy space, particularly motor fuels, is not competitive and therefore will not get measurably more efficient and innovative on its own. If there is a story about questionable taxpayer engagement in the energy sector, it should be about why the U.S. taxpayer continues to fund innovation research at multi-national oil companies when we have supported them for a century with grants, loan guarantees, tax loopholes and direct expenditures. At this point the clean energy industry is used to myopic reports on government support for energy innovation.
Coleman concluded, It’s just too bad that ‘60 Minutes’ has joined the club.”