Barack Obama's policy shop is kicking out some good stuff.
I find this proposal of his, reported by Bloomberg, to help American automobile manufacturers offset retiree health care costs for gains in cutting carbon emissions intriguing. Of course, there are flaws, like in most great ideas, but it's an interesting and commendable gesture that gets away from the nasty, destructive battles in the past between automakers and progressive environmentalists.
Obama is linking progress on two major social problems so that one leverages gains in the other.
The flaw in Obama's plan is that he may not need to offset the auto sector's health care burden for retirees because the auto sector has decided to heavily lean green.
Dave McCurdy -- a former Democratic Congressman from Oklahoma and almost-presidential candidate who nominated Bill Clinton at the 1992 Democratic convention -- is the new president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. He is getting the leadership and staff of the organization, as well as the lobbying shops of the key auto government affairs offices, to realize that the auto sector just can't be against progress on the environment. They have to be for something. And he's got everyone learning about cap and trade systems, the science of global warming, the realities and challenges of carbon sequestration.
He's made the entire shop at the Automobile Manufacturers Alliance essentially go to school to learn about this debate -- and what they need to achieve to help shore up the needs and interests of the auto manufacturing sector in ways that will benefit the environment.
So, Obama may not need to dole out incentives to the auto sector to do what the manufacturers already feel is in its interest.
The other flaw in the Obama proposal is that changing the behavior of the auto sector alone just doesn't get us very far with a comprehensive approach that improves our energy and climate change circumstances. Where are the public utilities in the plan? Where are the other energy and water consumers in the system?
And what about the cow problem? During the lifetime of a car that goes for 150,000 miles -- that car generates 57 metric tons of carbon emissions. A cow, in its lifetime generates 6 metric tons. There are no quick fixes here -- but one quickly sees that a single sector alone -- autos or any other -- is not enough to really dent the energy and climate change realities we are facing.
But all in all, the kind of thinking Obama is doing is exactly the sort of creative and pragmatic policy work that we need more of.
But think "comprehensively." It's the only way America will change it's energy use patterns.
-- Steve Clemons is Senior Fellow and Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note.