Columnist Tom Friedman in today's NYT asks why Michigan's congressional delegation is helping Detroit lose the competitive auto race with Japan (and soon China), a battle against improved fuel economy standards that Toyota is now happy to assist. My observation as a former congressional staffer from Michigan is that while there are more complex reasons, the politics of Michigan's congressional opposition to improved fuel standards are fairly simple: fear. Republicans fear the MMA. Democrats fear the MMA and the UAW. Both fear voter backlash should they support stronger fuel standards after years of full-throated pandering to the public that stoked the CAFE debate in Michigan. None of this is new or surprising and few could have predicted just how devastating the politics of CAFE would become to Michigan.
We in the environmental community and those who fund us may have assisted this suicide act by failing to support over the years a large, sustained homegrown campaign for more efficient autos Where is the Michigan equivalent of homegrown opposition to mountain-top removal? Part of this is simply a failure to adequately see the future, and partly it's because there are so many other challenges to Michigan's environment. So with the exception of some groups and individuals, Michigan's environmental community over the years has collectively sidelined itself in the fuel standard debate, giving Michigan politicians plenty of breathing space to huff and puff and blow our whole manufacturing house down. All of this is understandable at a basic human level. It would have been--might still be--just as unpopular for environmentalists as it is for Michigan members of congress to argue loudly for better fuel efficiency standards in the face of muscular opposition from friends and auto interests. But can we agree that as a community Michigan environmentalists spend too little time looking ahead? Spend too much time, perhaps, with our heads tucked down and charging to the next thing, then the next thing without even pausing to discuss what might be the most important thing we could be doing for Michigan's next generation?
Today Tom Friedman asks:
What is it about Michigan that seems to encourage assisted suicide?