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Re: E-M:/ Empty-barrel politics

Thanks Dave for your impassioned plea.  As a community, we do need to be more involved in the fuel economy issue.  And I agree that our Congressional delegation have gotten away with being overly protective of our home industry, much to their own detriment.  I do want to take issue with Friedman's oversimplification of the competing legislative proposals, however.  While the bill supported by most of the MI delegation, the auto companies and the UAW is certainly the weaker of the two proposals, it is wrong to simply dismiss it as "loophole ridden."  It just doesn't go far enough, and is at least 10 years too late.  But the Senate bill isn't perfect either.  As I pointed out in an Op Ed back in July, the Senate's 35 mpg bill is a good start, but could go further in providing job protections for U.S. autoworkers and offering financial support to help the industry retool their factories to produce new fuel efficient vehicles and technologies.  http://www.autonewsservice.org/072007/pp_dn_071207_cafebill.htm  

What is important for Michigan environmentalists to recognize is that there are good reasons for our leaders to try reducing the possible negative economic impacts from new fuel economy legislation, especially during the trying times that our industry is currently experiencing.   As the NYT's pointed out in its own editorial last week, Detroit at the Brink, not all the problems the industry faces are of their own doing, for example our health care policies that advantage foreign automakers that don't carry huge financial burdens for retired workers.  

It is possible to promote both strong fuel economy and support for the industry to make the transition.  But if we really want to solve this problem and earn our Congressional leaders' support, we need to move away from the simplistic position that there is only one side in this debate.  

Charles Griffith

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?

"“If the success or failure of this planet, and of human beings, depended on how I am and what I do, how would I be? What would I do?”
--Buckminster Fuller