During an interview on CNN’s “No Bias, No Bull” program on Tuesday, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman expressed his confidence in President-Elect Obama’s “vision” for environmental policy and urged that the future executive be given “means...that are as radical as its ends” to carry out this policy: “...[I]t’s great to say we’re going to have green jobs and green homes and green-collared jobs to re-insulate people’s homes, install solar panels. Those jobs won’t get taken up unless you change building codes around the country. So...I think, the challenge for President-elect Obama will be to have the standards, regulations, the means that are as radical as its ends so we can really achieve those ends.”
Host Campbell Brown devoted two segments to her interview of Friedman. During the second segment, Brown brought up “Obama’s attempt to take on the enormous environmental challenges facing the country and the world.” She first asked the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist if the president-elect’s plan for creating green jobs was “visionary” enough and if he has “the leadership ability to get this done.”
Friedman began his answer by gushing over Obama and then continued by giving his “radical” proposal:
BROWN: You know, our president-elect, Obama, has proposed what amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars of spending on public works to create new jobs, and some of them [are] green jobs, exactly what your new book says America needs. This is part of what he and Al Gore discussed just today. Do you think, what we know of his plan -- do you think it’s visionary enough? Do you think he’s got the leadership ability to get this done?
FRIEDMAN: I do. I think he definitely has the vision. I’ve been really impressed with what he’s been laying out. I’m totally in sync with all those ideas. I think the real challenge for him at this time is to have means, okay, that are as radical as its ends. That is, you know, it’s great to say we’re going to have green jobs and green homes and green-collared jobs to re-insulate people’s homes, install solar panels. Those jobs won’t get taken up unless you change building codes around the country. Let’s say to home builders, you want to build this home, it’s got to be at these higher efficiency standards. Those technologies won’t be taken up. So, Campbell, I think, the challenge for President-elect Obama will be to have the standards, regulations, the means that are as radical as its ends so we can really achieve those ends.
Brown then followed-up by asking what would “convince people that will cut through this impasse we’ve had on this issue [the environment] for so long.” Friedman replied by emphasizing that “the next great global industry is going to be energy technology -- clean power, clean water, clean energy. It simply has to be -- otherwise, we’re not going to survive as a planet. I know that for sure, Campbell.” After expressing his hope that the leader of this “next great global industry” would be U.S., he repeated his earlier point, that Obama will “ have to pull the country and Congress along to give him all the enabling taxes, standards, and regulations to bring that about.”
Earlier, during the first segment of the interview, Friedman repeated his longstanding call for higher gasoline taxes:
BROWN: You know, high gas prices killing people over the summer, but now oil is back below $45 a barrel, gas prices the lowest they have been since 2004, and this goes, I think, certainly in conjunction with what you’re talking about. You think that that’s actually bad news, that what everybody, not just the car companies, what we all need is a bit of a motivator, and it would actually be good for us if the prices were a lot higher right now.
FRIEDMAN: Well, and why do European countries have, you know, cars with better average mileage -- smaller cars? Because they have had very high gasoline taxes. So, they innovated around that. Detroit, all these years, you know, fought higher gas prices, created a universe where they could only make money-selling SUVs. And now, you know, when the price went up, they weren’t prepared, basically, with the cars people want. Now, the price will go down -- they will sit back and say, you know, we can relax now, and continue to make, you know, bigger cars, and
you surely know in a world that is ‘hot, flat, and crowded’ -- basically, more and more demand for oil -- in time, that price is going to go back up. They’ll be in the same place. So, what is the point? The point is, unless we have a gasoline tax that brings gasoline, on average, to around $4 a gallon -- that’s when we saw real change of behavior -- you're not going to get a change of behavior.
BROWN: But would you say, even at this moment, when people are hurting as badly as they are, that this is the moment that Obama, once he takes office, should increase taxes on oil and gas?
FRIEDMAN: Well, what I’m saying is this -- yes, you should increase the gasoline tax, but it should be revenue-neutral. It should be combined with a reduction equal in payroll taxes, so that the total hurt to people is zero. But you are encouraging companies to hire workers and to people to work by lowering payroll taxes and you are discouraging them to buy gas-guzzling vehicles by raising gasoline taxes. There’s lots of ways to do this.