In Which Obama Takes the Government Out for a Round of Electric Cars

Photo by complexify. Some rights reserved.

In the immaculate words of the boys (or were they men?) of pioneering new jack swing group Boyz II Men, “little things mean a lot / appreciate what you got /if you give all that you have / it’s forever we’ll last.” Now watch me try to shoehorn those lyrics into a larger patchwork regarding the burgeoning sustainability movement and foreign oil dependence in the contemporary United States, because President Obama announced in a memorandum today the government’s plan to fill out their vehicle fleet with 116 new electric cars, led by 101 Chevrolet Volts, along with Nissan Leafs and Oslo-based Think City cars.

This small purchase (“little things,” remember?) arrives as part of a larger gesture on the U.S. government’s part to lead by example and reduce our country’s reliance on fossil fuels. The ultimate goal for government transportation is that all government vehicles will be run on alternative energy sources by 2015 (a goal Obama had originally set in March), be it electric, natural gas, clean diesel or flex-fuel.

Obama’s involvement in promoting hybrid vehicles can be traced back as far as November of 2006, when he co-authored with Jay Inslee (D-Wa.) the Healthcare for Hybrids Act, a bill that provided federal assistance for health care in the auto industry in exchange for the funds to be used on hybrid technologies.  In 2009, the Obama Administration authorized the purchase of 3,100 hybrid-electric cars for government use with money from the federal stimulus, and in late March of this year, he issued announced the “Clean Fleet Partnership,” in which government rebate money is set aside for companies able to lower their vehicle fleet’s oil usage.

Obama is steering us towards two ultimate goals, both laid out in the first paragraph of today’s memorandum. One, that by 2025, the U.S. will have reduced its dependence on foreign oil by 1/3, a hope that he has stressed before in his addresses on energy, and two, that there will be one million electric vehicles in the U.S. by 2015. These bring us back to that closing line of the Boyz II Men couplet above (oh boy am I regretting using that song as a structural device now – it seemed like such a good idea at the time!) “if you give all that you have it’s forever we’ll last” – the U.S., and the rest of the world along with it, is fast approaching a breaking point in its attitudes towards transportation and the sustainability movement that surrounds it. It’s not even just about environmental damage or ticking oil clocks in the Middle East anymore; as Energy Secretary Steven Chu pointed out, “we are in a global race to capture the growing market for alternative vehicle technologies” – and we’re trying our damnedest to win.

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