It not shocking news to discover that “recovering” politicians often lobby their former colleagues. This show about Gore’s testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is just an example.
This week I spent a several hours listening to the first hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of the current congressional session. Former Vice President Al Gore, the founder of an organization called Alliance for Climate Protection was the only witness during the 2 hour and 50 minute hearing. Watching that hearing, no one would ever know that the former VP is also a partner in Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers a Silicon Valley venture capital firm with significant financial interests in the very topic of conversation – non-nuclear alternatives to fossil fuel energy power production.
This is a matter of collegial privilege offered to a very few.
After watching the hearing and producing a rather extensive blog post about the hearing for Atomic Insights, I happened to choose to listen to NPR Environment Podcast for January 29, 2009. There was an amusing juxtaposition of stories; the first one talked about Gore’s visit to Capitol Hill, the second one was an interview with Ray Lane, also a partner in KPCB, about the need for federal assistance to the alternative energy industry in the fact of the global economic crisis.
None of the NPR correspondents made the connection between Gore and Lane.
It was also amusing to hear Gore explaining to Senator Corker and Senator Isakson, two strong nuclear advocates and former independent businessmen, why he talks down the potential for nuclear power as a tool in the fight to save human civilization against the twin threats of climate change and fossil fuel addiction.
I know that this might sound like I am picking on the former VP, but if I am, it is not because I am on a different political team. I happen to agree with some of the things that he says and stands for.
I just think that he should be more open about his financial interests in ensuring that climate change is recognized as a crisis big enough to force the taxpayers to subsidize the very companies into which he is putting his “private risk capital”. At the same time, I think he needs to do a better job of explaining why the crisis is not big enough to allow the expansion of a proven technology that supplies massive quantities of emission free power already.
His claim is that fission either costs too much or presents too big of a risk of “proliferation” means that he puts those factors higher on the priority list than saving human society from choking on deadly fossil fuel waste.
My interpretation is that fission simply presents too big of a risk to the success of his investments in alternative forms of energy production. None of the projects that KPCB is financing in alternative energy could compete without both a direct boost from the government and unreasonable handcuffs on competitive energy source from that same government.
Update posted Feb 2, 2009 at 0641: Ausra is one of the companies that KPCB has funded. During the hearing, John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee specifically mentioned that company, its Las Vegas, NV location and its expansion plans, stating that it was “the future”. I just ran across an article about the company in the San Jose Mercury News dated January 29, 2009, the day after the hearing took place. Here is a quote:
Today, the Palo Alto company says it has responded to the financial crisis by downsizing its goals and now plans to make smaller energy-generation plants and to sell its technology and equipment to utilities and other companies. Ausra’s chief executive said he now doubts the viability of the large-scale solar-thermal segment.
“What a lot of people thought when they went out and signed 500- or 900-megawatt power-purchase agreements was that it was easy to go from a 1-megawatt demo plant to a 900-megawatt project,” said Robert Fishman, Ausra’s chairman, president and CEO. “That’s simply not reality. The finance market will not support it.”
You can also read more about the hearing over at Atomic Insights.