White House, Department of Energy shift gears

Nissan Motor's workers installs a charger into a Leaf electric vehicle on the assembly line at the company's Oppama plant in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture on Jan. 25, 2011.

Kai Ryssdal: The Department of Energy, should you be curious, gets $3 billion a year for research and development. Today, the D.O.E. said it's going to start spending more of that $3 billion on electric cars than it has in the past.

They didn't say this next part directly, but federal budgets being what they are, the extra money for EVs -- electric vehicles -- comes at the expense of clean energy. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sarah Gardner reports.


Sarah Gardner: White House science czar John Holdren opened today's announcement with this news: Plotting a national energy strategy is really hard.

John Holdren: And energy strategy is hard because there is no single silver bullet. We're going to need a broad mix of technologies and a broad mix of strategies.

True enough. But the Department of Energy released a report today that chastised itself for "underinvesting" in cleaner transportation, like electric vehicles, advanced biofuels, and surprisingly, improving the internal combustion engine. The D.O.E. wants to focus on reducing the nation's oil dependence and, energy scholar Michael Levi notes, technologies that can speed up that reduction.

Michael Levi: A big part of what drives this shift to a focus on vehicles and fuels is a desire to have an impact over the next decade or so.

And yes, in tech circles, a decade is speedy. Former D.O.E. economist Peter Morici argues the shift spells less government dollars for clean electricity in the future. The D.O.E.'s already under fire over its failed investment in Solyndra, the bankrupt solar company. And, Morici argues, the new strategy just happens to play well into the president's re-election.

Peter Morici: After all, it throws some assistance in the direction of the automobile industry and away from solar panels and so forth, which are not unionized.

Still, says Michael Levi, it's far from a backdoor stimulus program for carmakers.

Levi: I cannot imagine that people in Detroit are looking at this and saying, this is our way out of our current problems.

Along with cleaner transportation, the D.O.E. also wants to direct more money towards modernizing the nation's aging power grid.

I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk covering sustainability news spots and features.

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