The bipartisan infrastructure bill that just passed the Senate contains something that truly cuts across party lines: corporate welfare.
The 2,700 pages of legislation are stuffed with freebies for the companies and causes adored by the political class, especially of the green variety.
While supporters are selling the bill as a major investment in innovation, history and common sense indicate that taxpayers can expect very poor returns from these handouts.
The bill contains at least $21.5 billion for the U.S. Department of Energy to dole out to bureaucracy-approved initiatives.
These include everything from hydrogen hubs to carbon capture to “clean manufacturing” and more.
There’s $7.5 billion for electric-vehicle charging stations, another $7.5 billion for low-emission buses and ferries, and $73 billion to rebuild the electricity grid to carry wind and solar power.
It throws a $6 billion lifeline to the nation’s struggling nuclear plants, which are being driven into bankruptcy by overregulation and decades of unrelenting subsidies lavished on less efficient types of green energy.
These are staggering sums, but the true total is surely higher. The word “grant” appears 2,115 times in the bill — nearly once per page — along with numerous references to taxpayer-backed loans and loan guarantees.
Huge amounts of public money will soon be flowing into a select group of private hands.
Who will bestow this largesse? What will it fund? For the most part, the answer to the first question is Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.
For a preview of the answer to the second question, look at Granholm’s record during her eight years as governor of Michigan, when she promised up to $12.6 billion in taxpayer dollars to politically favored companies.
From just one program, the Michigan Economic Growth Authority, Granholm approved taxpayer money to 434 firms.
An analysis by the Mackinac Center found that only ten of those projects — or 2.3 percent — fulfilled their promises to the state.
Granholm has been out of office since 2010, yet because the credits are good for decades, Michigan taxpayers are still on the hook for $4.7 billion.
Like the infrastructure bill, a big goal of Granholm’s liberality was to jumpstart green innovation. Many of the beneficiaries were high-profile companies, yet virtually all of them had a low payoff.
A123 Systems, a car battery manufacturer, went bankrupt after receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal grants.
Mascoma, a biomass-to-ethanol producer, was promised up to $120 million, yet its signature plant was never built.
Renewable and Sustainable Co., better known as Rasco, was on track for $9.1 million. Fortunately, keen-eyed corrections officials saw the company’s owner — a convicted embezzler, out on parole — standing beside the governor at a press conference and stopped the process.
In the rush to spend the people’s money on a political agenda, even the most far-fetched applicants got a credulous hearing, if not taxpayer funding.
One would hope the federal government would be immune from such problems, but the record isn’t heartening.
Many Americans remember Solyndra, the solar manufacturer that went belly-up in 2011 after getting more than $500 million in federal loan guarantees.
Electric battery maker Ener1 followed suit in 2013 after getting nearly $120 million in federal grant money.
More recently, electric truck maker Lordstown Motors applied for a $200 million federal loan only to go bankrupt before the application process finished.
Such handouts fail so frequently because they’re driven by politics, not economics. In the Obama era, the Washington Post reported that the Department of Energy’s “green-technology program was infused with politics at every level.”
Companies such as Solyndra played the game and reaped the rewards. As the Post documented, constant “high-level maneuvering by politically connected clean-technology investors” reached into the White House itself.
Why would the current administration be any different? The investments this time may be even less sound, and the results worse.
The political pressure to lavish taxpayer money on green companies is stronger than ever, and with such enormous sums at their disposal, Granholm and the bureaucracy she oversees will be flinging funds in every direction.
It’s a safe bet that huge amounts of money will see little productive use, and that even more will go to companies that grease the wheels of political power.
Read rest at NRO
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