Smart Ideas: Electric Grid Must "Devolve Downward"

Plus: SCOTUS could play a role in Whitaker case.

AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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Dec. 5, 2018, 8 p.m.

Redesigning the U.S. electric grid

David Roberts, writing for Vox

The United States’s power grid—a system designed “around big, centralized power plants and one-way power flows”—is in dire need of a makeover. Currently, large power plants feed power into the system, like a river flowing downstream. Three major trends are upending that system. The growth of renewable energy means the new grid must adapt to spikes in supply in real time. The rise of so-called “distributed energy resources” like batteries and fuel cells unlocks “opportunities to stitch together more locally sufficient energy networks—if grids can handle them.” Thirdly, the proliferation of cheap electric sensors and processors makes it “possible to see exactly what is going on in a distribution grid down to the individual device, and to share that knowledge in real-time over the web.” This also promises energy savings. To take advantage of these innovations, responsibility must “devolve downward,” where no single transmission system will “single-handedly keep track of all the blooming and buzzing” in distribution systems beneath it.

Pass anti-censorship legislation for social media

Jeremy Carl, writing for The Federalist

Congress and the courts must “demand the big tech monopolies and oligopolies stop their reign of politically biased censorship.” Social-media companies too often "censor conservative or right-wing content," while leaving “racist and anti-Semitic incitements” from the likes of Louis Farrakhan untouched. This could be stopped were companies to enable “a modest number of user-controlled, rather than big-tech controlled, content filters.” In the “thrilling” early days of the internet, nobody could control the flow of content or information. To reanimate that exciting time, lawmakers must force companies to respect free speech.

Rebalancing the scales on trade

Clark Packard and Philip Wallach, writing for The National Interest

The Trump administration has used “thin justifications” to impose tariffs on aluminum and steel; one way Congress can tilt the balance back on trade is to “more tightly define ‘national security’ under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act,” so Trump can’t bend any policy issue into a national security issue, and to “ensure that only genuine national security threats are covered. ... The new House majority also should change the process for making national security determinations. The defense secretary, rather than the commerce secretary, is better able to determine whether imports truly threaten national security.”

A steel plant in Kentucky AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

SCOTUS can hit back on Whitaker

Matt Ford, writing for The New Republic

The Supreme Court has a unique opportunity to stand up to the administration over the appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general. Appellate lawyer Tom Goldstein, who was suing Jeff Sessions in a Second Amendment case, “filed a motion earlier this month urging the Supreme Court to reject” Whitaker’s appointment because he was not confirmed by the Senate. “The motion asked the court instead to substitute Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general and second-in-command at the Justice Department. The Supreme Court hasn’t yet said whether it will taken the case.” But the “tactical cleverness” in bringing the issue directly to the top cuts out a lot of possible delay and gives the Court a quick chance to defend the independent judiciary.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
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