When Does a GOP Senator Believe the Feds Should Help the EV Industry?


[Photo credit: itMoves]

When he happens to represent a state where EVs are going to be built, of course.

Money, politics, hypocrisy, what else is new?

Minutes after reading that more that 95% of GOP senators are global warming skeptics (admittedly from the left wing Think Progress blog; for a very good conservative response, look here), I came across another piece of news (Bloomberg via EDTA newsletter) where US Sen. Lamar Alexander was asking for bipartisan agreement (!) so the Federal Government can help spur production of affordable electric vehicles (!!).

If a Republican seeking consensus these days is a shocker, a GOP Senator asking for federal help to develop EVs must be considered a little miracle.

Suspicious as I am, and since Tennessee somehow ran a bell, I decided to Google a bit further. Sure enough, Nissan headquarters are indeed in Tennessee, where batteries and complete Leaf production is supposed to start in 2012, aided by a $1.4 billion DOE loan (why do Nissan, Ford or GM need government loans to retool is baffling to me).

I know what you are thinking:

  • Bringing home the bacon is part of their job description.
  • It happens on both sides of the isle.
  • One could be a global warming denier (or skeptic) and still be in favor of electric vehicles.
  • Who cares if it is for what we consider a good cause.

I agree with all of the above, and yet sometimes, sometimes, the connection between narrow local self-interest, money and politics is so obvious that it really rubs me the wrong way. It is very easy to agree with Mr Alexander's petition*, but I would be dismayed if the nascent green industry (EVs in particular) becomes another unefficient, unaccountable jobs program like the Military-Industrial Complex has transform itself into (with dare fiscal and policy implications).

If they want to help the EV industry, the answer is very simple: substantially raise gasoline taxes, give the money back to the people so it is revenue neutral (a version of Amory Lovins famed feebates, a subject for a whole different day) and let the best companies, on the best states, using the best technologies, win.

But where, politicians would ask, do campaign contributions fit into all these?

Exactly, they don't, and maybe that is the problem.

* On the interest of fairness, I should point out that Mr Alexander seems to be one of the few senators consistently crossing the isle (at least according to this non-working Wikipedia link...). He also gave a very reasonable and interesting short speech on the Senate floor last June, in response to the BP spill; other than his position on nuclear power and ANWR, I have to admit I agree on all his other points, so maybe he is not that bad after all.