In our opinion: Right heart, wrong head

Economic stimulus programs, in theory, are designed to achieve one primary goal: stimulate the economy.

Sounds like a simple concept to grasp. It would be if the legislation was not filled with loopholes.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s Buy American Provisions for some reason allow buying foreign vehicles.

Our occasionally progressive-minded county officials used these federal funds this month to buy five Japanese-made Nissan Leafs, the only totally electric car on the market at present. To be clear, they apparently received all the necessary OKs they needed from the proper authorities. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it was a wise move to make.

Perhaps with a dash more initiative and a pinch more patience, our county leaders could have instead used this money to purchase the Chevy Volt or some other domestically produced, energy-efficient hybrid.

Even waiting, which the county can actually afford to do in this instance since our renewable energy portfolio remains so dismal, could have allowed Nissan to set up shop in Tennessee where it plans to produce the Leaf by the end of next year.

The bottom line is at this point in time a domestically produced hybrid of any make would have given a better boost to the economy and the environment.

Sure, there will still be some economic gains from the Leafs. Someone has to unload them at the docks, bring them to the county garage, maintenance them. The real loss was not having American workers who desperately need good-paying jobs build them in the United States.

We encourage all Kaua‘i residents to buy local. Whether it’s a business-to-business or an end-user purchase, supporting local businesses will certainly benefit all of us. If you can’t buy it on Kaua‘i, buy it in Hawai‘i. If not in the state, then keep it American.

At first glance, one would think Kaua‘i would at least reap the environmental benefits of a zero-emissions vehicle. While it’s true the Leafs won’t be filling up with unleaded gas, they’ll still be plugging into an oil-burning powerplant to charge their batteries. That is, unless the county decides to invest in solar charging stations or until the island gets its power from renewable sources of energy.

Ninety percent of the power Kaua‘i homes and businesses run on comes from imported oil. So charging a Leaf at one of the 10 new charging stations that will be installed on island (only five of which the public can use) as part of the same deal will not help the Garden Isle be more self-sufficient or reduce carbon emissions that wreck our clean air.

Until Kaua‘i gets all its power from clean sources like wind, solar and hydro, we can drive electric vehicles until we’re green in the face and see no worthwhile environmental benefits.

This is what makes the county’s decision to buy the Leafs at this time so hard to understand.

There were no U.S. jobs created in the purchase, despite the use of economic stimulus funds. But that’s not to say it’s a total lose-lose. At least the county doesn’t have to pay for a few new cars to add to its fleet.

But that is not what the ARRA was intended to do. Those taxpayer dollars could and should have been spent in a way that injected a boost into our suffering economy.

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