Ten years ago, no one would have thought we could get the world’s largest automakers, the unions that represent workers at auto plants and in the auto supply chain, environmentalists, sportsmen, consumer groups, and the President of the United States to agree to ambitious new fuel-efficiency rules for light-duty vehicles.
Yet these groups found common ground and stood with President Obama at the White House in 2009, when strong efficiency standards were announced for the 2012-2016 model years. They stood together a few years later, when the standards were extended through 2025, effectively doubling the fuel efficiency of cars and light trucks over the next decade.
The shift to cleaner cars is a boon to the American economy and to our environment. A recent report by the BlueGreen Alliance, a nationwide partnership of labor unions and environmental groups, concluded that the shift to high-efficiency, advanced vehicles will create 570,000 jobs — 50,000 of them in parts manufacturing and vehicle assembly.
The new standards will provide a net boost to our annual gross domestic product of about $75 billion by 2030. They will reduce the carbon pollution that causes climate change by 6 billion metric tons — more than the total amount emitted by the United States in 2010.
Consumers will save an estimated $1.7 trillion at the fuel pump and cut oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels a day. That will save American families an average of more than $8,000 over the lifetime of a new vehicle by 2025, the White House says.
We’re reviewing this effort not just to highlight how effective it was, but also to point out that we should duplicate and build on this successful model in other areas. Diverse groups — from companies to consumers to conservation groups to the autoworkers who make cars and trucks — realized their common interests and worked together for a long-term common good. And they did it despite a gridlocked, hyperpartisan Congress.
The organizations we lead don’t agree on everything. But long ago, we figured out that we can do more good together than we can separately. The labor and conservation movements will be the impetus for even more vital leaps that make our economy more efficient, protect our environment, address climate change, and create good jobs for American workers.
We’ll work with elected officials of any rank, the White House, the business community, civic leaders, and other stakeholders to move forward. It won’t be without conflict, both internal and external. And that’s OK.
Internal conflict is necessary in any coalition or partnership. It forces us to look at our positions from others’ point of view, and often leads us to common ground. Even if we cannot move forward on the issue that divides us, the act of finding consensus on what we can do instead allows us to achieve individual and shared goals.
External conflict often gets reported in news media, and is used by those who seek to hold onto power and further enrich themselves. But it also drives consensus, forcing us to look inward and clarifying the importance of our shared long-term vision of America’s future.
A prosperous country is one in which those who do the work are rewarded for their toil, and communities are safe from the worst effects of our changing climate. As we rely more on advanced, American-made energy and technology, the enemies of progress will not stop us from having safe, clean communities.
Building a coalition that makes a difference isn’t easy. If it were, everyone would build one. But the end result — the good work done to combat climate change, create good jobs that support families, and establish a vibrant economic and environmental foundation for future generations of Americans to build on — is worth it.
Whatever the fight, we must continue to work together. There will occasionally be conflict, but it’s vital for us to find solutions.
Larry Schweiger is president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation. Bob King is president of the United Auto Workers.