Presidential contender Barack Obama (D-IL) unleashed his energy plan with strong words for the heads of America’s auto leaders in Detroit. Yet, despite a reasonably strong stand on auto emissions the plan appeared to have gaping holes in addressing how our nation uses other sources of energy that are more polluting and more dangerous than oil.
Obama told the CEOs of Ford Motor Company, General Motors and other U.S. automakers, that the energy policy needed to be overhauled:
The need to drastically change our energy policy is no longer a debatable proposition. It is not a question of whether, but how; not a question of if, but when. For the sake of our security, our economy, our jobs and our planet, the age of oil must end in our time.
I was interested in the small but meaningful point that “the planet” didn’t make the top three of Obama’s reasons for breaking our addiction to oil. Whether or not that was on purpose doesn’t matter too much to me (the games and tactics of politics are pretty obvious most of the time) but it was intriguing in that it shows me that we still, as a country, despite the recent perceptible shift toward green concerns, will not put the planet ahead of our economy and the all-mighty dollar.
Obama went on to promote cap-and-trade as a solution to deal with global warming as well as keeping clean coal on the table as a strategy in dealing with CO2 emissions :
A comprehensive energy plan will require bold action on many fronts. To fully combat global climate change, we’ll need a stringent cap on all carbon emissions and the creation of a global market that would make the development of low-carbon technologies profitable and create thousands of new jobs. We’ll also need to find a way to use coal – America’s most abundant fossil fuel – without adding harmful greenhouse gases to the environment.
Cap and trade is a weak system. It sets a carbon ceiling (cap) and then allows companies who pollute to trade for the ability to pollute. The problem with it is that companies will cheat (because, believe it or not, they have in the past), corrupt governments will favor certain businesses and it overwhelmingly favors insiders. Matt Stoller over at MyDD has a great post on the dangers of cap and trade. Personally, I wish Obama was progressive enough to push his plan a bit further by looking at a carbon tax, something that Chris Dodd and other Democrats have endorsed as THE way to conquer global warming.
Obama said that he will introduce more pieces of his plan later on but that he wanted to focus on the debate around oil and cars in this speech.
Automakers still refuse to make the transition to fuel-efficient production because they say it’s too expensive at a time when they’re losing profits and struggling under the weight of massive health care costs.
This time, they’re actually right. The auto industry’s refusal to act for so long has left it mired in a predicament for which there is no easy way out. But expensive is no longer an excuse for inaction. The auto industry is on a path that is unacceptable and unsustainable – for their business, for their workers, and for America. And America must take action to make it right.
That’s why my first proposal will require automakers to meet higher fuel standards and produce more fuel-efficient cars while providing them the flexibility and assistance to do it.
I really needed to see a number here. I’m tired of hearing politicians come out and say that they want to increase CAFE standards and then not hear another word about it once they get to office. What will the CAFE standard uphold for MPG in this country? Will they stop allowing auto companies to create loopholes? My biggest problem with this plan is that there is very little that is concrete — its a lot of fantastic generalities and not a lot of specific substance.
Overall, Obama’s plans for limiting the amount of CO2 coming from our cars is nothing to laugh at but its definitely not inspiring. He says that sustaining a clean energy future for America will take a “miracle” and an “historic effort.” But so far his energy plan is anything but visionary and is more of a baby-step for mankind.
We put a man on the moon in practically 7 years. We put the smartest people in a room and told them not to come out until they had an answer. We fully funded all types of programs giving money to whomever seemed to be able to tackle the problem of successful space travel. And we did it. We put an American on the moon. I want great leaps for mankind, not baby steps. For as much as Obama likes to talk about the great leaps mankind and America have made in the past, much of his plans seem to be based on the idea of small incremental steps. The solution to climate change is not in baby steps. It will require giant leaps.
Like others have said before it will take an Apollo-like effort to change break our addiction to oil and usher in an era of renewable energy. However, I don’t believe that you can say that unless you have an agenda that demands dramatic progress and high goals. Otherwise, is this effort to change our energy structure really that difficult?
Obama barely mentions renewable energies like wind, solar and geothermal as solutions to the climate change problem. He also continues to endorse clean coal technology as a harbinger of hope when no technology has been successfully tested. Instead of highlighting three clean energy options that are proven he highlights one dirty one that is still an unknown. If you continue to think coal is a answer to our energy problems, perhaps you should take a visit to the more than 470 Appalachian peaks that have been destroyed by mountain top-removal mining, a barbaric practice that dumps mountains into their own valleys, poisoning America’s stream beds and rivers with mercury and other chemicals.
It’s good to see that Obama recognizes what we all realized many years ago — that CAFE standards and climate change are related. But when will he step outside the moderate, middle of the road pack with an energy policy that actually reaches for something higher? I hope soon.