A federal role in the energy future

Saturday, February 5, 2011; 6:04 PM

George F. Will's Jan. 30 op-ed, "Let Uncle Sam drive," left out important facts as he applied his rigid ideological rejection of public-private partnerships as a way to promote private-sector development.

He failed to note basic economics: Any product's first units are expensive to produce; costs fall as the scale of production increases. The tax credit for electric vehicles is intended in part to help automakers reach that higher scale, which is why nearly half of the states have or are considering consumer incentives. That was also the purpose of the tax credit for traditional hybrid cars when it was enacted in 2005 by a Republican Congress. At the time, the Toyota Prius was one of only a few hybrids on the market. Five years later, there are more than 20 competitively priced models. That tax credit has rightly expired, having achieved its goal.

The need to produce advanced-technology vehicles is critical because oil prices are determined by production decisions centered in the Middle East. Other countries recognize this, and they will make investments in their auto industries to produce green vehicles. We can't cede this important market to China, South Korea or India, whose governments are actively supporting their auto industries.

If Mr. Will aspires to a less regressive tax code, then count us in agreement. We believe that America's leadership in advanced-technology vehicles will help create jobs that strengthen our middle class.

Carl Levin and Sander Levin, Washington

The writers, both Democrats, represent Michigan and its 12th Congressional District, respectively, in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.

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George F. Will is right: It is critical for the United States to produce more oil domestically. No one wants a repeat of the Gulf of Mexico disaster, but it is unacceptable for the government to drag its feet on reopening the gulf, not to mention other productive areas (including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge). But domestic production alone cannot end this national security threat. Oil is fungible. It does not matter whether it comes from Canada or Mexico; as long as we are solely dependent on petroleum to power our cars and trucks, we remain tied to a global market in which a change in supply or demand anywhere in the world affects everyone. Electric vehicles offer a chance to use our vast domestic resources, from natural gas to nuclear power to renewables, to break the stranglehold.

Our addiction to petroleum costs us hundreds of billions a year and represents a grave national security threat. Oil is approaching $100 per barrel again. We cannot afford to ignore our dependence on it any longer.

Robbie Diamond, Washington

The writer is president and CEO of Securing America's Future Energy and the Electrification Coalition.

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George F. Will rightly took the current administration to task for its unrealistic and costly energy policies. But Mr. Will was wrong to attribute this, as he seemed to, to "liberal" overreach. After all, the ethanol mandate that he properly decried was passed in 2007, with George W. Bush as its most vociferous cheerleader. Recently Newt Gingrich, another supposed conservative, went all out for ethanol on the campaign trail in Iowa.

Unfortunately, bad U.S. energy policy goes back at least to Richard Nixon. Democrats, Republicans, liberals and conservatives have all been guilty of foisting on us energy programs that have wasted our money and have taken us nowhere.

Peter Z. Grossman, Indianapolis

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