The New York Times today features a front-page story suggesting that the oil industry is the main source of the Trump Administration’s suspension of pending rules requiring faster improvement of automotive fuel-economy standards. According to Times reporter Hiroko Tabuchi, “it turns out that there was a hidden beneficiary of the plan that was pushing for the changes all along: the nation’s oil industry.”
This is rotten-appleism/liberal practicality/craven punch-pulling, mixed with patent hogwash.
Let’s start with the obvious unreality.
First, in Tabuchi’s telling, the oil industry was, at some time, a hidden opponent of rules reducing its own sales? ROFL. Pure balderdash.
It is also simply bad history to suggest that the idea of halting Obama’s CAFE rules originated with the petroleum corporations. The Trump Campaign was obviously planning such a move all along. And, contrary to Tabuchi’s claim that “[c]armakers, for their part, had sought more flexibility in meeting the original 2025 standards, not a categorical rollback,” the auto corporations have been every bit as early and eager as the oilmongers in their entirely welcome lobbying on this issue. They may have framed their wishes with a more careful eye to their public perception, but it is naive in the extreme to therefore make these dedicated devils look like angels in this string of pathetic events.
Which point brings us to the NYT‘s rotten-appleism: The oil industry is not the relevant villain in our shamefully under- and mis-discussed cars-and-energy crisis. The oil industry is huge and important and partially independent, but it is nonetheless a squarely subordinate part of the automotive-industrial complex, which is itself a deeply logical, probably indispensable component of corporate capitalism. To miss this institutional fact is to do damage to the possibility of its decent resolution, by passing off a mere symptom as the disease we need to cure.
As much as liberals and greens want it to be true, we aren’t going to sweet-talk or band-aid our way through our coming storms. Self-delusion will not cut the mustard.