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Turning the Page on Old Energy Policy

Brian Siu

Posted July 8, 2010

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Good news is in short supply these days.  The most visible headlines reflect the political disagreement, environmental tragedy, and economic anxiety that define this moment in time. Understandably, these are all profoundly important issues that warrant national attention.  But once in a while it’s refreshing to hear that work is being done to solve these problems with tangible, brick and mortar results. 

Today, President Obama visited the Smith Electric Vehicle manufacturing plant in Kansas City. The Smith plant is partially funded through a $32 million federal stimulus grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.  That grant is matched with an additional $36 million of private investment.  Smith initially plans to build 500 all electric commercial trucks for businesses such as Coca-Cola, AT&T, Frito-Lay, Staples, Pacific Gas and Electric, and Kansas Power and Light. These vehicles will travel up to 100 miles on a single charge, reducing oil consumption, smog forming pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. 

Additionally, these manufacturing investments illustrate how sound energy policy can also be sound economic policy.  By September, the 80,000 square foot facility will employ 70 workers as the nation struggles to recover from the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression.  Thus, these investments work triple duty, cleaning up the environment, fostering energy security and creating badly needed jobs. In fact, NRDC has written about the intersection between clean vehicles and jobs before. NRDC’s Peter Lehner recently commented on a 2010 report jointly released by NRDC, the United Auto Workers and the Center for American Progress. The report found that increasing vehicle fuel economy to a conservative 40.2 miles per gallon could create over 150,000 U.S. jobs if policies that foster domestic manufacturing and environmental sustainability are put into place.  The Smith stimulus grant shows how these policies can play out on the ground. For additional discussion on this topic, see Luke Tonachel’s posts here, here and here.

So despite gloomy headlines, there is a path forward and progress is being made. Will this particular investment stop oil from spewing into the Gulf? Of course not and surely we need to increase our efforts to get off oil.  But with time and persistence, these types of investments will reduce our dependence on oil and our exposure to its countless liabilities.  In conjunction with measures such as strong greenhouse gas tailpipe standards, these types of investments can confront the challenges of climate change, energy security and economic growth.

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