The Breaking Wave

05/21/2010 04:20 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Washington, D.C. -- A few months ago, I visited Tokyo for a few days to try to help persuade Toyota to keep open its Fremont NUMMI Plant and build green cars in California. Although the plant shut down as scheduled on April 1, last night Toyota announced a new joint venture with Tesla Motors to build electric cars at the Fremont facility.

The initial proposal is for a limited production line that won't make full use of the plant's capacity, so it's important that Toyota commit to going beyond this first step by also making hybrid vehicles -- not just electric vehicles -- in Fremont until the customer demand for EVs has grown significantly.

Nevertheless, this is a tremendous victory for the partnership between environmentalists and labor, as well as a model for how to start building the green-jobs economy of the future while getting America off oil.

Another big break came today in the Rose Garden of the White House when President Obama announced that, for the first time, the federal government will establish fuel-efficiency and greenhouse-pollution standards for heavy-duty trucks as well as for passenger vehicles. In a relatively short time, such standards could reduce emissions from long-distance trucking by one third.

The president had another, equally important, announcement: The EPA, Department of Transportation, and California will collaborate to set emission and efficiency standards for cars and light-duty passenger vehicles on a much longer time horizon. That's an essential step for letting automakers know: "You've got 15 years here, but you have to get off oil."  Although those standards weren't announced today, this is still a huge breakthrough in the reshaping of the American transportation sector so that it can free itself from the grip of oil.