I know President Obama is supposed to be an awful disappointment to environmentalists because he doesn’t talk enough about climate change, just like he’s an awful disappointment to progressives because he doesn’t say enough nasty things about bankers. But people who actually care about what Presidents do, as opposed to how they talk, might be interested in Obama’s trip to Michigan on Thursday. He’s visiting a factory that builds batteries for electric vehicles, a factory that exists for three reasons: 1. Because Obama saved the U.S. auto industry. 2. Because Obama has ratcheted up fuel-efficiency standards, boosting demand for green vehicles. 3. Because Obama created a U.S. advanced battery industry from scratch.
I’m going to have more to say about the battery industry in particular and Obama’s clean-energy industrial policy in general in the magazine. But as close readers of my oeuvre have probably already guessed—hi, Mom!—the Johnson Controls lithium-ion battery factory that Obama is visiting in Holland, Mich., was financed by his 2009 stimulus bill. Yes, that’s the pathetically tiny stimulus bill that any good liberal can tell you pumped a mere $800 billion into the free-falling economy—more than the entire New Deal in inflation-adjusted terms, and enough to prevent a depression, but still, a pittance compared to what it undoubtedly would have done if only Obama had properly and vigorously explained Keynesian economics.
Anyway, the pathetically tiny stimulus included an unprecedented $90 billion for clean-energy investments, including unprecedented investments in wind, solar and geothermal energy, biorefineries, the smart grid, electric vehicles, and factories to manufacture all that green stuff in the U.S. The most radical investment was probably a $2.4 billion grant program that helped finance 30 factories building advanced batteries and components, including $300 million for Johnson Controls, which had to match the government dollars with private dollars.
Before 2009, the U.S. was supplying less than 2% of a tiny global market in advanced batteries. When the stimulus-funded factories are all complete, they’ll have the capacity to supply 40% of a rapidly growing global market, about 500,000 batteries a year. The stimulus will also boost our supply of electric-vehicle charging stations by more than 3,000%. And the Obama administration has provided loans to help Tesla, Fisker and Nissan build electric-car factories in the U.S., all part of Obama’s pledge to put 1 million plug-ins on the road by 2015. That is what change looks like, even if the President doesn’t beat his chest and call for mass beheadings on Wall Street while it happens.
Again, I’ll have more to say about the battery factories; there are legitimate questions about how sustainable the battery industry will be in the U.S., how fast electric vehicles will spread in the U.S., and whether the government should interfere with the private sector at all. (Although as Jared Bernstein, Vice President Biden’s former chief economist, likes to say, we’re way more than a little bit pregnant on that last one.) It’s also fair to point out that these state-of-the-art factories are marvels of automation, a nice way of saying they don’t create all that many jobs; Johnson Controls will apparently employ about 150 workers in Holland. On the other hand, as electrification grows, we’re going to want to have a supply chain here if we want to have an auto industry here. And did I mention that Obama saved the U.S. auto industry in 2009?
My point, which I guess I’ve made before, is simply that the liberals who keep whining that Obama isn’t telling them what they want to hear ought to open their eyes and look at what he’s trying to do. Whining enviros should be especially grateful to Obama, which I guess I’ve also said before–and that was before his latest round of fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, as well as the first-ever standards for buses and heavy trucks. As White House environmental aide Heather Zichal pointed out in a Wednesday briefing, those standards represent the biggest step the country has ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. She didn’t point out that they’re also the biggest step the country has ever taken to reduce our carbon emissions.
I can see why the White House’s failure to mention the climate crisis would be annoying to people who spend their days trying to raise awareness about it. But would you rather have a President who talks about climate change, or a President who does something about it?