A pothole in Obama’s stimulus plan?

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I have a feeling that this type of post is emerging in many places across the country—expressions of deep concern over the “use it or lose it” provision of Obama’s economic stimulus plan that seems to take out all of the greening of America vision and potential for change that seemed to be at the core of the plan as it was initially discussed.

Mayors and governors have brought forth lists of projects seeking funding under the plan announced by Obama in early December. My understanding of the plan, and my hope for all of us, was what seemed to be the broadening of the term, infrastructure, with a list of focus areas including energy efficient public buildings, renovated and connected schools, broadband extensions and a major thrust in medical technology development.

Mr. Obama’s remarks showcased his ambition to expand the definition of traditional work programs for the middle class, like infrastructure projects to repair roads and bridges, to include new-era jobs in technology and so-called green jobs that reduce energy use and global warming emissions. “We need action — and action now,” Mr. Obama said in an address broadcast Saturday morning on radio and YouTube. (NYT)

Indeed, beyond his outline in his address, the program known as the Obama-Biden Plan for economic recovery, there is much that speaks to a future of, and derived from, a focus on sustainable approaches to development.

However, in a provision of the plan meant to encourage speed of response and of recovery, the President-Elect proposed a use-it-or-lose-it condition. States and cities, now scrambling to develop “shovel-ready” projects, are demonstrating that there has been no vision in their thinking and no green in their planning.

The Unites States Conference of Mayors has proposed a “Main Street Economic Recovery Plan” plan that pushes the stimulus to $180 billion. In its top-ten list of priorities, their stimulus for green jobs amounts to little more than 5% and schools modernization little more than 8% of the total. Most of the rest can be considered to be buried in concrete (road construction) or going down the sewer (water and wastewater projects).

My own state and city, the home of the collapsing auto company, where we’ve wished for a leadership to a transformed economy for decades, seems still unable to get it. Detroit’s long list in the Conference of Mayor’s recommendations totals almost a billion dollars (a desperate city and less than one-half of one percent of the country’s urban vision???).

Almost every project on the list supports streets and bridges, places where graft seems to find a home and certainly places where no vestige of a new-era economy, a knowledge economy, or a future can be found. I can’t find a mention of “green,” or “sustainable,” or “environment,” and under “energy” I find things like remote meter reading. The contempt heaped on the automobile industry (Tom Friedman calls it a “giant wealth-destruction machine”) in Congress seems extensible to the political and civic leadership as well.

I deeply hope that “use-it-or-lose-it” will have added filters of vision, responsibility, and sustainability. I find myself in the same anxiety as Tom Friedman. “If we allow this money to be spent on pork, it will be the end of us.”

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