Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Since President-elect Barack Obama is talking about economic support for the flailing auto-industry, here’s a flashback (via Ezra Klein) to nearly three years ago, when he was merely Sen. Obama:

Already, hundreds of fueling stations use a blend of ethanol and gasoline known as E85, and there are millions of cars on the road with the flexible-fuel tanks necessary to use this fuel — including my own. But the challenge we face is getting biofuels out of the labs, out of the farms, and into the wider commercial market.

Washington can help in important ways. First, we can reduce the risk of investing by providing loan guarantees and venture capital to entrepreneurs with the best plans to develop and sell biofuels on a commercial market.

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Next, we tell the private sector there will always be a market for renewable fuels. Let’s ramp up the renewable fuel standard and create an alternative diesel standard so that by 2025, 65 billion gallons of alternative fuels a year will be blended into the petroleum supply.

Third, every automobile the government purchases — starting right now — should be a flexible-fuel vehicle. When it becomes possible in the coming years, we should also mandate that every government car is the type of hybrid that you can plug in to an outlet and recharge.

More broadly, we should then ensure that, within a decade, every new car sold in America can run on flexible fuel. We can advance this goal by offering manufacturers a $100 tax credit for every flexible-fuel tank they install before the decade is up.

As my friend Tom Daschle details in this report, millions of people driving flexible-fuel vehicles don’t even know it. The auto companies shouldn’t get CAFE credit for making these cars if they don’t let buyers know about them, so the entire auto industry should follow GM’s lead and put a yellow gas cap on all flexible fuel vehicles, and notify consumers in writing as well.

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We have a choice in this country. We can continue down our path of oil dependence and watch as foreign competition kills our auto industry. Or we can help the industry transform itself back into the giant it once was. Eighty years later, Henry Ford’s dream of a future without oil is not only possible, it’s essential. For our environment, our security, and our economy, it’s finally time for America to pursue it.