We want to break our silence. We are two of the fat-cat, special-interest energy lobbyists who met with Vice President Dick Cheney before his energy task force issued its report.
What's more, we met frequently with the task force staff before the report's release. The staff director, Andrew Lundquist, was on our speed dial. We like to say he was the easiest man to reach in Washington. No secretary screened access to him. He often answered his own phone.
Now we read that the vice president is fighting to keep secret from Democrats a list of those he met with. And we don't blame him. The fringe-right would throw him out of the Grand Old Party if they knew he was cavorting with the likes of us.
You see, we are solar energy lobbyists.
To some on the right, solar energy still means Jimmy Carter in a sweater, or California's own Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown looking for enlightenment. While we admire Ronald Reagan as the man who made Mikhail Gorbachev tear down the Berlin Wall, these wing-nuts revere Reagan for tearing down the White House's solar panels installed by President Carter.
So we don't blame the veep for wanting to keep our meeting secret from his right flank. But we do wonder why the Democrats are fixated on the process of the task force, instead of winning political points based on substance.
Two recent national polls showed solar energy scoring phenomenal 90% approval ratings with the U.S. public. Given that political consultants salivate at an issue with 65% support, you would think political strategist Karl Rove personally would be hammering new solar panels onto the White House roof.
Instead, the Department of Energy's first act in this arena, in April, was to propose slashing the three solar energy research programs by 50% to 85% (a position the White House has since reversed). The task force report also fell short. Its laundry list of 105 recommendations included just one, albeit important, provision to promote solar energy deployment: a residential solar tax credit.
Shouldn't the Democrats be hammering away at the proposed research cuts and demanding swift passage of the solar tax credit? That would seem to make more sense than arguing over meeting lists.
But as they focused on process, the Democrats now running the Senate almost blundered on substance. On July 19, as senators prepared to vote on renewable energy funding levels for 2002, they realized they had less funding for photovoltaics, the largest solar program, than Tom "The Hammer" DeLay's House version. It took quick action by Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) to promise in a colloquy to increase the photovoltaic account in the pending conference with the House.
We think those on the right who have vestigial opposition to the U.S. solar industry, and those on the left too busily engaged in Beltway subpoena games to get the policy right, have been in the sun too long. The solar energy industry grew by 43% last year, and the U.S. solar industry exports 75% of its products overseas. Solar electricity costs have been cut 50% in the last five years, and solar companies are hiring even as layoffs mount elsewhere. Given that recent track record, both the vice president and the majority leader might be well-advised to get themselves into a photo with a solar panel about now.