Green Energy — August 4, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Carol Browner on Detroit Automakers: “So Much Optimism!”


Former head of the EPA and Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, Carol Browner, was in Michigan yesterday to talk to Detroit vehicle manufacturers about the future of the industry. She was invited by freshman Representative Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield) who has recently introduced legislation called ADVANCED VEHICLE TECHNOLOGY ACT that will inject $550 million into the Dept. of Energy for research and development of the next generation of energy efficient vehicles.

Carol Browner, head of the Enviromental Protection Agency under Bill Clinton, was picked by President Obama as the first director of the newly created Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy. She was in Michigan yesterday to attend an event described by the Detroit News as “a panel of auto executive, suppliers and academic and government researchers gathered Monday at Automation Alley to discuss the future of car production in the United States”.

While there, she talked to the crowd about the Obama administration’s view that vehicle fuel efficiency advances and emissions regulation are “part of an ongoing commitment to help the industry recover and retool”. In other words, rather than an impediment to the industry, these actions to protect our planet and to wean our country off from our dependency on foreign fossil fuels are an OPPORTUNITY for U.S. vehicle manufacturers to regain their position as global leaders in the development and manufacturing of vehicles people actually want to buy.

“There are so many interesting things going on here in Detroit, and we want to start down that path of breaking our dependence on foreign oil.”

Browner also said that the current administration is insistent that commercially successful developments be “technologically neutral”. “It should be driven by science and driven by the consumer,” she told the panel. According to the Oakland Press, Browner said she plans “to use her notes from the discussion to build inquiries on how the federal government could do more for carmakers.”

Later in the evening I attended a fundraiser for Rep. Peters and Ms. Browner was in attendance. She spoke passionately about the Obama administration’s strong desire to help domestic automakers rise from the ashes. Rather than seeing a group of downtrodden, beaten-up business people, she was delighted to find a receptive and eager audience, ready to take on the new challenges posed by our woeful economy and our nation’s energy & climate situation.

“There was just so much optimism in the room today.”

There’s reason for optimism. Rep. Peters, the first Democrat to be elected in his district since it was created in 1933, is working hard to ensure that manufacturers in this state are given the tools they need to adapt to the changing economic reality. Passing a bill out of committee in his first eight months in office is no small feat. According to Peters’ press release, his legislation:

“Investing in research and development of advanced vehicle technologies will help our auto companies turn the corner and emerge from the global economic crisis,” said Rep. Peters. “This legislation will help ensure the cars of the future are built here in the U.S., creating good paying jobs and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. In Southeast Michigan we have many companies in prime position to lead the world in the development of these exciting new products. This bill is good for the country and great for Michigan. These are exactly the sort of targeted investments we need to get our economy moving.”

And this isn’t all just about cars. Peters says his bill “would also aggressively expand efforts to develop fuel efficient commercial truck technologies and engage auto parts and component suppliers in DOE research and development programs.” What does that mean? Here’s an example (from the Detroit News article):

Dr. Grace Bochenek, director of the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center in Warren, said her organization is looking for light-weight solutions for military vehicles including the Humvee, which gets 3 miles per gallon.

“We hope to drive an all-electric ground combat vehicle by 2025. We see that as a capability that will change battlefield dynamics,” Bochenek said.

After the panel discussion yesterday, both Peters and Browner were able to see some other examples of the new technological advances that are in the pipeline including an all-electric Ford Focus, due to be released in 2011, and together they drove a next-generation semi-truck. “He drove, I was just a passenger,” Browner joked at the fundraiser. “It was in parking lot so everyone was safe!”

I am thrilled to see a Michigan Democrat taking such an early and strong position in this area and it’s welcome news that the Obama administration is taking it very seriously as well. My only regret? Two sentences into introducing myself to Ms. Browner, Rep. John Dingell arrived to give a speech and she was hustled off immediately afterwards to catch a plane. I never got a chance to tell her about our local OFA group‘s efforts to make sure energy conservation stimulus money is being spent properly and directed to those who need it most.

Maybe next time.

I’m just sayin’…