Clean Tech Public-Private Partnership or Collusion?

Let’s start off with a general scenario that happens almost every election cycle:  A corporate leader holds fundraisers for a politician.  That politician gets elected into office.  We’ve all heard examples of those very corporate leaders benefitting from government contracts and other kickbacks shortly after their chosen representative gets elected.  Is this behavior ethical? Specifically, are cleantech companies and the Obama administration guilty of this behavior?

According to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity, this collusion between corporation and State, specifically between clean tech companies and the Obama administration appears to be happening.

Some of the key findings include:

  • Steve Westly, a venture capitalist, raised more than $500,000 for the Obama presidential campaign.
  • Since 2009, four firms in The Westly Group’s portfolio are the beneficiaries of more than $510 million in Energy Department grants and loans.
  • In August, Westly was appointed to an Energy Department advisory committee that guides Cabinet secretary Steven Chu.

Some may argue that this is merely a “public-private” partnership.  Private companies and the Federal Government allegedly work together to better our countries energy resources, environment, and economy.

But what is called a public-private partnership from one point of view can also be called the collusion of corporation and state from another.  Imagine if we had the same scenario, but instead of clean tech companies and the Obama administration, insert Big Oil and the Bush Administration.  (We probably don’t even need to use our imaginations for the latter scenario.)

Wouldn’t we be up in arms with such overt collusion?  Wouldn’t we call to question Big Oil companies making a profit with the help of Federal Government grants, loans, and/or subsidies?  We need to hold clean tech companies and the Obama administration accountable for such unethical behavior.  Otherwise, we would be hypocrites.

Don’t get me wrong, we need clean tech (especially renewables) now more than ever.  But there is a right way to do it, and a wrong way to do it.  The wrong way to do it is to have the Federal Government picking the winners and losers of the clean tech industry.

The right way to do it is to discover, fund, and succeed or fail the various clean technologies in the marketplace.  It is through this process that the best technologies, balancing profit with planetary concerns, will emerge.

Whether it is Big Oil or clean tech in bed with the Federal Government, the collusion of corporation and state, is still a collusion of corporation and state.  We need to move towards a new era towards the separation of corporation and state.  That is the only way we can truly be sustainable, not only for our economy, not only for our environment, but also for our ethical social behavior with each other.

Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.

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