No doubt you’ve already heard the news; Barack Obama has continued to demonstrate that elections matter by asking the EPA to reconsider its Bush-era position on tough emissions rules in California, and by pushing ahead measures to increase automobile fuel economy standards. This is unquestionably good news, but there are a few things that need to be said about the changes.
First, it’s a shame that Obama continues to rail against dependency on foreign oil. For one thing, it’s not like domestic oil is all that much cleaner. For another, oil is a globally traded commodity, so to get us off foreign oil is to get us off oil, full stop. That’s a fine goal, but no one dares explain that that’s the actual implication of the “foreign oil” statement, since that suggests that Americans may need to change some of their nasty habits.
Next, while it’s true, as the Center for American Progress’ Daniel Weiss has it, that Obama “has done more in one week to reduce oil dependence and fight global warming than President Bush did in eight years,” that’s not exactly a high bar to clear. I understand that expectations are low, and that makes it easy to praise the new president, but if we hope to meet the energy and climate challenges that confront us, we’re going to have to ask for a lot more.
And finally, it’s remarkable that in all this ado over our new commitment to ending oil dependence and addressing climate change there is no mention of land use patterns or the transportation choices that shape them. Why no mention of reduced transit funds in the stimulus bill, or the fact that the House is planning to give highways $30 billion to transit’s $10 billion? Why no pressure placed on Senate Democrats, who are busy revising transit’s share down even more, in their version of the stimulus bill? The bottom line is that if you increase efficiency and increase vehicle miles traveled, well, you’ve just spun your wheels. If the administration is going to get serious about these issues, it needs to take seriously the option of helping Americans to drive less.