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Commentary: Save automakers to help economy and security

  • Story Highlights
  • Gov. Jennifer Granholm: 3 million jobs could be lost if auto firms go under
  • Aiding the automakers is an investment in greater energy independence, she says
  • Helping the companies survive boosts national security, Granholm says
  • Transition to low-carbon future will create middle-class jobs, she says
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By Jennifer M. Granholm
Special to CNN
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Editor's Note: Jennifer M. Granholm, a Democrat, is in her second term as governor of Michigan and is a member of President-elect Barack Obama's transition economic advisory board.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm says letting automakers fail would hurt the economy and energy independence.

LANSING, Michigan (CNN) -- U.S. automakers are in jeopardy. What seemed impossible just months ago is now a reality: One or more of the world's biggest automakers could go bankrupt before the year is out.

New vehicle sales are at 30-year lows, financial reports are dismal and the credit crunch is preventing customers from being able to buy or lease.

So why not just let General Motors, Chrysler and Ford go under?

As the governor of Michigan, the home of the U.S. auto industry, it's a question I get asked every day.

Letting the auto industry disappear will be devastating -- not just to Michigan, but to the entire nation. It will make our national economy even worse, eliminate our ability to achieve energy independence and weaken our national security.

The auto industry supports one of every 10 jobs in the United States. A recent study estimated that 3 million jobs nationwide could be lost in one year if these companies are allowed to fail. The devastating impact would be felt in every state and by all kinds of employees.

That's because U.S. automakers buy more U.S.-made steel, aluminum, iron, copper, plastics, rubber, electronics, and computer chips than almost any other company. They provide health care to nearly 2 million Americans and support 775,000 retirees or their survivors through pension benefits.

Beyond the massive job loss, Congress and the Bush administration need to provide immediate assistance to the auto industry, because America's energy independence is dependent upon it. The U.S. auto industry is the sector that will lead the way to energy independence.

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How? The car you drive will soon be the storage unit for all your energy needs. Your home, your car, your appliances can all be powered through the advanced battery that will sit inside your plug-in electric vehicle.

Today, most batteries come from Asia and most oil comes from the Middle East. Refusing to help the U.S. automakers compete in this critical race to develop new battery technology means we will forever be dependent on other countries to meet our energy needs.

Abandoning efforts to create energy independence puts our national security at risk as well. The Department of Defense (DOD) Science Board Task Force has determined that reducing military fuel demand is a national defense priority.

According to the DOD, our military's dependence on foreign oil increases risks, degrades operational capability, and compromises mission success. "Made in America" advanced battery technology and electric military vehicles would reduce fuel demand and cost, afford tactical flexibility, and decrease operational risks.

It is a national-security, energy-security imperative to produce advanced batteries and next-generation biofuels here at home.

Supporting the automotive industry through the current crisis and steering a clear transition to a low-carbon future will create millions of middle-class jobs that are vital to a strong economy while reinvigorating American technological superiority.

But time is of the essence. America's auto industry is in crisis.

Beyond the $25 billion in loans already approved to help GM, Ford and Chrysler modernize their manufacturing facilities and operations to build more fuel-efficient vehicles, Washington needs to get additional funds to this critical industry with the same urgency they showed in sending help to the financial institutions.

Using a small portion of the $700 billion already set aside to help the national economy recover will save and create millions of American jobs.

I urge Congress to take bold action before it is too late. Invest in the industry that supports millions of workers in communities across this country. Invest in the industry that will lead us to energy independence and help keep our national defenses strong. Invest in America's future.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jennifer Granholm.

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