Creating prize competitions to encourage finding breakthroughs in fighting climate change
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Climate change is affecting all Americans and urgent action is needed to address the problem and adapt to its effects. For years, Congress has been gridlocked on the issue and unable to provide meaningful solutions. That’s why we joined the Climate Solutions Caucus, which is taking a new bipartisan approach to address climate change. With its “Noah’s Ark” membership rules, meaning that each new member who wants to join has to bring in a colleague from the other party, the Caucus makes sure that each party has equal say. The group has grown rapidly in popularity and now boasts 72 members.

Now that it has achieved a critical mass of legislators committed to working together on climate change, the next task for the Caucus is to influence and pass legislation. So far, we have had some significant successes. Caucus members were instrumental in defeating an amendment to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that would have prevented the Department of Defense from studying the vulnerability of its installations to climate change. The Caucus also successfully included several renewable energy tax credits in the major tax bill that was signed into law earlier this year. We are encouraged by these achievements but think that the Climate Solutions Caucus can do much more.

Our Challenges and Prizes for Climate Act of 2018 will leverage the federal government’s prize authority (originating in the America COMPETES Act) to create competitions for next-generation climate technologies and solutions. Federal and private sector prize competitions have led to incredible breakthroughs. For example, in 2004 the Ansari XPrize led to a commercial spacecraft making two space flights in a week and helped launch the commercial spaceflight industry. And in 2011, the Department of Energy (DOE) L-Prize led to the development of a highly-efficient, low-cost, American-made LED bulb to replace the 60W halogen bulb, and in the process revolutionized the residential lighting industry.

Our bill will create new prize competitions, run by the DOE, around five themes: carbon capture, energy efficiency, energy storage, climate adaptation and resiliency, and data analytics to better understand or communicate about climate. These are all areas that are ripe for technological breakthroughs, advances in deployment and dissemination, or innovative new ideas. Our bill does not address every climate-related topic we may think is important, nor do we think it should. There are many topics that are better addressed by federal research grants or research and development activity in the private sector, and we aim to complement, not replace those.

Prize competitions offer several advantages that we think contribute to their bipartisan appeal. They allow federal agencies to work collaboratively with one another, with state, local, and tribal governments, and with the private sector. They also encourage a shared funding model in which multiple governmental agencies and private entities can make cash and in-kind contributions (such as access to facilities or expertise) to the prize purse. Prizes are paid out only for success, not for failure, limiting the government’s financial outlay. Ultimately, prize competitions raise the profile of the competitors and the competition topic, often resulting in market activity that dwarfs the cost of the competition.

With this bill, we aim to demonstrate that the Climate Solutions Caucus is working exactly as it is supposed to: as a forum for members of both parties to discuss difficult issues and come up with shared solutions. For too long, conversations like these and bipartisan efforts like ours were not happening on Capitol Hill. But in what we hope is simply one of many Caucus success stories, we aim to make climate change action bipartisan.

Lipinski represents Illinois' 3rd District. Faso represents New York's 19th District.