With Stanford Fellowship, Senate Renewable Energy Advocate Shuns K Street Path

Source: By MATTHEW L. WALD, NYT • Posted: Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat who retired as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in January, is going to Stanford Law School on a one-year fellowship to specialize in renewable energy, as Stanford becomes a kind of energy-in-exile center.

Mr. Bingaman will join the energy secretary, Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate in physics and a strong advocate of alternative energy sources, who will be returning to Stanford after a successor is confirmed for his current job. George P. Shultz, who was secretary of state in the Reagan administration and is now an advocate of a carbon tax, is already at Stanford.

The journey by backers of nontraditional energy sources to academia from Congress or the executive branch stands in contrast to the path of former lawmakers and administration officials with more conventional interests. They often end up on K Street in Washington, as lobbyists. John B. Breaux, Democrat of Louisiana, and Trent Lott of Mississippi, who was the Senate Republican leader, even went into business together as the Breaux Lott Leadership Group for “strategic consulting and lobbying.”

“Energy” here usually means oil or gas, but sometimes it means nuclear. Christine Todd Whitman, a former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, went on to be the co-chairwoman of CASEnergy, an advocacy group financed by the nuclear industry. But there are no equivalent organizations for sun, wind and other forms of renewable energy. These have trade associations but not sophisticated public relations groups like CASE.

Mr. Bingaman, who is an alumnus of the Stanford Law School, will be a distinguished fellow working “to develop policies to assist states and local communities in promoting increased use of clean energy,” Stanford announced on Monday.

Given the state of energy politics, assisting the states is the most promising route for wind, solar and other renewables used to make electricity. By Stanford’s count, 29 states and the District of Columbia have a renewable portfolio standard — that is, a minimum quota for energy from renewable sources — and seven others have voluntary standards.

In some states, those standards are under pressure because of changes in the electricity market. Wind and sun mostly displace natural gas, but the price of natural gas has been falling, reducing the value of the alternative production. The failure of the federal government to implement any kind of carbon dioxide limit has not helped, either.

In the Senate, Mr. Bingaman was a backer of the Clean Energy Standard Act of 2012, which would have given federal help to all low-carbon electricity producers. It did not pass the Senate.

His appointment at Stanford was supported by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.