Detroit: Part of a Green Solution?

Detroit: Part of a Green Solution?

This week, top management of Ford, GM and Chrysler appeared on Capitol Hill in support of the proposed $25 billion auto industry bailout. Reaction was hardly supportive, and the House has since voted down federal relief for Detroit. Asked Gary Ackerman, a Democratic congressman from New York City, "Do you want us to put a tourniquet on a dead man?" And if that was the reaction of Ackerman, a big-city Democrat from a working class district, you can only imagine the views of members of Congress less favorably disposed to federal bailouts.

At the same time, stock in the Big Three was trading at prices unseen since World War II, and Mitt Romney advised lawmakers to "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" in a New York Times op ed of the same title.

In response to all of this, I decided to take a look at what Detroit has been doing to develop environmentally responsible cars and trucks and to employ green manufacturing practices. I am not a blind defender of the U.S. auto industry — the automakers have consistently opposed more stringent mileage standards and have been painfully slow in developing more fuel efficient vehicles. And arriving in Washington via those private jets certainly reduced the sympathy vote. (Said Ackerman: "Couldn't you all have … jet-pooled or something?") But at the same time, the Big Three employ over 700,000 workers and auto manufacturing will no doubt play a significant role in forging U.S. energy independence.

After some time spent on the websites of the Big Three, I am inclined to say that they deserve a chance to make good on the green innovations that they have put in motion, and hope that Congress will consider a new version of the auto bailout bill after the Thanksgiving recess or, at latest, when Congress reconvenes in 2009. All members of the Big Three are developing their first generations of hybrid vehicles -- some for sale as early as 2009. As well, they are putting funds into green manufacturing, brownfield reclamation and biofuels. Here are links to some of the innovations at GM, Ford, and Chrysler on the hybrid vehicle and green fronts.

I recognize that many believe the market should take its course with the major automakers, arguing that smaller or more innovative companies should take their place. But I am disinclined to play dice with the U.S.'s largest manufacturing segment during precarious times, and believe the Big Three have a significant role to play in a green and energy independent future. Federal support for Detroit, targeted to the development of environmentally responsible vehicles and green collar jobs, could have a real payoff. Were I Ackerman and his colleagues on Capitol Hill, I'd opt for an auto industry stimulus linked to employment creation and energy independence. The alternative is an exacerbation of the economic crisis — not what we need just now.

Capitol photo CC-licensed by Flickr user NCinDC.