Why Nathan Cummings Hopes Clean Energy Can Rise Above Partisanship

A major strategy behind the Nathan Cummings Foundation's (NCF) environmental funding has been to rewrite energy policy to put technological innovation at its core. To get there, NCF is funding a pragmatic advocacy group and a heavyweight think tank to do the unthinkable — inspire levelheaded, bipartisan policy discussion on global warming. (See Nathan Cummings Foundation: Grants for Climate Change.)

The foundation has given big bucks — nearly $3 million combined — to the Clean Air Task Force (CATF) and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), as they run programs to push realistic, credible advice on solving climate change.

Clean energy innovation — from the perspective of NCF's environmental program officer, Peter Teague — is central to solving the global warming crisis but also has the potential for credible and bipartisan political support. So backing public-private clean tech development has the advantage of potentially reshaping the world's energy use, but it's also something that proponents believe can actually get through Congress, as opposed to, say, anything else.

The Clear Air Task Force, for example, is an organization dedicated to reducing atmospheric pollution, but the task force has come at climate change largely with the goal of rapidly accelerating low carbon technology. Recent reports have called for major government support for energy tech, suggesting the massive research budget of the Department of Defense.

"We need a sustained and well-funded research, development, and deployment (RD&D) effort akin to the Cold War defense technology program," the CATF site states.

While the Department of Defense and China might sound like edgy allies for global warming work, CATF also has been so brave in recent years as to seek common ground with the conservative movement. The task force has been working with the Center for the National Interest in an "unlikely bedfellows" project to determine what clean energy policy conservatives would consider justified, fair, and effective.

Meanwhile, the NCF has been a top backer of alpha-geek think tank the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), as it addresses the "reality that the United States faces significant energy and climate challenges and innovating cheaper, higher performing clean energy alternatives is the only real solution to addressing them."

The ITIF has been ranked the third-most authoritative science and technology think tank in the nation and described as "scrupulously nonpartisan." In other words, you won't find the staff handcuffed to bulldozers anytime soon.

And while it also works on issues such as net neutrality and privacy, ITIF has been a leader — along with another NCF benefactor, the Breakthrough Institute — in calling for the United States to catch up with competing nations on innovations around clean energy.

Like the Breakthrough Institute, ITIF has rankled some on the left now and then. But hey, you can't make a nonpartisan omelette...