GOP: Forest Fires Trump Fuel-Efficient Cars

July 23, 2013

Late in the administration of President George W. Bush, Congress created the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program. According to Detroit News, some of the funds earmarked for that program are now being funneled away to fight forest fires.

This is not a bad thing.

As the name implies, the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing initiative offers low-interest loans to automakers. The money is doled out by the Department of Energy, and it's meant to be used for retooling manufacturing facilities, creating new vehicles, and other projects that boost the fuel efficiency of American cars and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

That sounds great, but the program has hit a few snags.

For starters, it's funded some less-than-successful projects -- Fisker being the most notable. (FYI, Fisker isn't completely dead yet, but the owners should probably have a priest on speed-dial.) 

That, in turn, has caused the program to slow the pace of loan awards considerably. Because even though its funds have been put to good use at Tesla, Ford, Nissan, and elsewhere, one high-profile screw-up causes problems for everyone. 

That's not necessarily bad -- in fact, it probably kept the DOE from giving out money to V-Vehicle, which, honestly, seemed shady from the start. But it's also meant that in four years, the DOE has given away just $9 billion of the $25 billion allotted to the program.

In other words, there's $16 billion gathering dust. In a federal bank. Somewhere in Washington, D.C. It was only a matter of time until someone noticed.

And so, the GOP-led House Appropriations Committee has announced that it's taking at least some of the DOE's loan money and rolling it into a $24.3 billion spending bill, $1.5 billion of which will go toward fighting wildfires. 

Last time Republicans tried to do this, it caused a huge uproar. But now, wildfires in Colorado and elsewhere are making headlines -- and what's more, the DOE hasn't doled out any grants from the fund in over two years, and it's not considering any at the moment. 

As much as we love fuel-efficiency, we have to admit that the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program has hit a wall -- a wall that the DOE clearly isn't interested in scaling. If the DOE isn't going to use the funds at its disposal in a timely manner, the federal government has an obligation to put that money to good use. And when it comes to good uses, keeping homes, residents, and firefighters safe ranks at the top of our list.


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