The anxious auto and clean-energy industries have received positive signals from President-elect Barack Obama in the past two days.
In an interview with 60 Minutes broadcast on Sunday, Obama said he intends to pursue a government stimulus package that includes investments to promote clean technologies, even though oil prices have fallen dramatically during 2008.
Interviewer Steve Kroft asked whether cutting oil imports was less important now that the price of oil has plummeted from $147 a barrel earlier this year to under $60.
Obama: It's more important. It may be a little harder politically, but it's more important.
Obama: Well, because this has been our pattern. We go from shock to trance. You know, oil prices go up, gas prices at the pump go up, everybody goes into a flurry of activity. And then the prices go back down and suddenly we act like it's not important, and we start, you know filling up our SUVs again.
And, as a consequence, we never make any progress. It's part of the addiction, all right. That has to be broken. Now is the time to break it.
'60 Minutes': Obama and the Presidency
Obama said a consensus exists among policymakers that a stimulus package is required to prop up the deteriorating economy.
Addressing the question of a bailout for cash-strapped U.S. automakers, Obama said that giving them government money with conditions is the best policy.
He said that allowing the U.S. automakers to collapse would be a disaster but that handing them a blank check won't solve the problem. Instead, he said that the various stakeholders need to come up with a plan for a "sustainable auto industry." From the interview:
So my hope is that over the course of the next week, between the White House and Congress, the discussions are shaped around providing assistance but making sure that that assistance is conditioned on labor, management, suppliers, lenders, all the stakeholders coming together with a plan (for) what does a sustainable U.S. auto industry look like? So that we are creating a bridge loan to somewhere as opposed to a bridge loan to nowhere."
"It means investing $150 billion to build an American green-energy economy that will create 5 million new jobs while freeing our nation from the tyranny of foreign oil and saving our planet for our children," Obama said.
Energy and environmental policy were certainly not the top topic of the president-elect's public statements, given the pressing nature of the economic crisis and executing the transition between administrations.
But Obama's recent statements, as well as those from his advisers, indicate that energy remains a high priority. The idea is that an energy policy focused on clean technologies can address environmental problems while stimulating the economy.
"The president-elect will move quickly on climate change," Jason Grumet, a high-level Obama campaign's lead energy and environment adviser, told a conference on carbon trading last week.
In addition to spending on energy infrastructure, Obama's energy plan calls for incentives for energy efficiency, a national renewable energy mandate for utilities, a low-carbon biofuels standard, and a cap-and-trade system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.