The Washington Post this morning featured a Greg Schneider story about a very unlikely coalition of groups that has formed to push for initiatives promoting decreased gasoline consumption and increased use of alternative fuels in automobiles. Environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and others have long backed such steps, of course but recently a number of other constituencies have entered the fray.
Set America Free is the umbrella organization created by this group, whose members include evangelical conservatives (Gary Bauer), former national security officials (James Woolsey, Robert McFarlane, James Gaffney) and Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY) along with representatives from the NRDC and other environmental groups. Their immediate goal is a $12 billion initiative to cut oil use in half by 2025, through a combination of "manufacturer and consumer tax credits, as well as federal research funding," as Schneider writes.
Gaffney, a neo-con who pushed very heavily for the invasion of Iraq, told Schneider that after attending a conference on Saudi oil reserves last year he came to recognize the untenability of our current petroleum-use situation. Calling the matter a "national security emergency," Gaffney concluded that it just isn't good policy to be spending billions of dollars on Mideast oil. Better late than never!
Schneider's article cites several recent polls suggesting that recent high gas prices and the war in Iraq have "shaken Americans' faith in cheap, plentiful gasoline": a survey last week by Boston's Civil Society Institute revealed that 66% of those polled said it was "patriotic" to drive a car with higher fuel efficiency ratings, while 89% said the government should push for 40 miles per gallon standards from automakers.
The most heartening section of the Post article concerns the United Auto Workers, who have long opposed any moves toward increasing fuel efficiency standards. Now that sales of Toyota and Honda hybrid vehicles are skyrocketing, however, and the UAW has grown more worried about the loss of jobs to Japan than the slight cost increases involved with increasing fuel efficiency, they're coming around.
As with so many of the possible compromises that come up in one or two articles and then fade away, this one has the potential to go nowhere. But, with such a strange combination of proponents from all sides of the political spectrum, this coalition has that mix of unlikeliness and common sense that just might make it a winner. I will certainly keep my eye on it in the next few weeks and see what action materializes.