The Campaign Spot

Barackonomics: “The Age Of Oil Must End In Our Time”

Barack Obama, before the Detroit Economic Club, today:

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the country that faced down the tyranny of fascism and communism is now called to challenge the tyranny of oil.  For the very resource that has fueled our way of life over the last hundred years now threatens to destroy it if our generation does not act now and act boldly…
America simply cannot continue on this path.  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.
And yet, every year, that dependence keeps on growing.  Good ideas are crushed under the weight of typical Washington politics.  Politicians are afraid to ask the oil and auto industries to do their part, and those industries hire armies of lobbyists to make sure it stays that way.  Autoworkers, understandably fearful of losing jobs, and wise to the tendency of having to pay the price of management’s mistakes, join in the resistance to change.  The rest of us whip ourselves into a frenzy whenever gas prices skyrocket or a crisis like Katrina takes oil off the market, but once the headlines recede, so does our motivation to act. 

Obama was willing to go to Detroit and point a finger at the auto industries:

For years, while foreign competitors were investing in more fuel-efficient technology for their vehicles, American automakers were spending their time investing in bigger, faster cars.  And whenever an attempt was made to raise our fuel efficiency standards, the auto companies would lobby furiously against it, spending millions to prevent the very reform that could’ve saved their industry.  Even as they’ve shed thousands of jobs and billions in profits over the last few years, they’ve continued to reward failure with lucrative bonuses for CEOs.

A bit more specifics on Obama’s proposal for fuel economy standards:

It begins by gradually raising our fuel economy standards by four percent – approximately one mile per gallon – each year.  The National Academy of Sciences has already determined that we can begin to achieve this rate of improvement today, using existing technology and without changing a vehicle’s weight or performance.  And so the only way that automakers can avoid meeting this goal is if the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration can prove that the increase is not safe, not cost-effective, or not technologically possible.
This proposal provides additional flexibility to manufacturers as well.  Currently, domestic automakers are disadvantaged by the requirement that their fleets have to meet the same overall fuel standard as foreign manufacturers even though U.S. companies sell a much broader array of vehicles.  My approach would establish different fuel standards for different types of cars.  This reform will level the playing field by requiring all car makers to achieve a similar rate of progress regardless of their vehicle mix.  It will also allow manufacturers to get credit if they increase the fuel-efficiency in one particular car beyond what the fuel economy standards require.

Obama notes his own environmental sins:

And since it only costs $100 per vehicle to install a flexible-fuel tank that can run on biofuels, I’ve also proposed that we help pay for this transition.
Government should lead the way here.  I showed up at this event in a government vehicle that does not have a flexible-fuel tank.  When I’m President, I will make sure that every vehicle purchased by the federal government does. 

Let’s see here. The federal vehicle fleet acquisitions numbered 64,613 in 2005 and 62,978 in 2006.
So we’re looking at about $6.3 million or $6.4 million in additional vehicle acquisition costs per year. Sadly, that amount of money really isn’t a huge difference in terms of federal spending.


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