Today, President Bush asked Congress to give him the authority to set fuel efficiency standards on new vehicles.
Although I am glad to see that the President has just 'discovered' that we have a problem with this (we've had the technology to make cars that are 10-20 mpg more efficient for at least a couple of decades but auto makers have instead chosen to make bigger gas guzzlers), his approach is wrong, and Congress' approach has been wrong.
My objection to his approach is a simple one. Congress presently has the authority to pass new regulations, and handing over another of their duties to the executive branch to make these rules by fiat is wrong. It is true that President Bush has pushed the idea of executive power to the limit, but that is not a reason for Congress to abrogate another of their duties.
My objection to Congress is that while it is likely that new fuel standards will be passed-- now-- we should not let them forget that it was their misjudgement (dare we say paying back the auto and oil industries for campaign contributions?) that put us into this situation. If we look at their recent attempts to improve fuel economy we see that they are lazy and ineffective at best, and in the pocket of the automobile and oil industries at worst.
In August 2001, the House of Representatives passed the House Energy Bill that included an amendment offered by Richard Burr (R-NC) to save 5 billion gallons of gasoline from light trucks by 2010. This is the equivalent of raising the fuel economy of light trucks (i.e., SUVs, pickups, and minivans) by less than 1 mile per gallon, and amounts to saving only one day's worth of oil per year.
In March 2002, Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ) introduced an amendment to the Senate Energy Bill that would have increased fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks to 36 mpg by 2015. Instead of taking this meaningful step to require the industry to produce cars and trucks that can go farther on a gallon of gas, the Senate overwhelmingly chose to support an amendment conceived by Senators Levin (D-MI) and Bond (R-MO) that punted the issue to NHTSA and added loopholes that would actually increase oil use. The Levin-Bond amendment was passed by 62 votes, effectively killing the Kerry-McCain amendment. If Kerry-McCain had been enacted, we could be saving 2 million barrels a day--almost as much oil as we currently import from the Persian Gulf--by 2020. The Senate then displayed convoluted logic by first passing the decision on fuel economy standards to NHTSA and then voting for an amendment that permanently exempts pickup trucks from the agency's future rulemakings.
The House and Senate energy bills were then "conferenced" in the Energy Conference Committee, which is made up of members of both the House and Senate, to reconcile any differences into one bill. In September 2002, the Levin-Bond amendment and the pickup truck exemption were removed from the conference energy bill. A version of the Burr amendment that calls for a less than 1 mpg increase in fuel economy by 2012, plus an additional requirement for the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to study fuel economy further, remained in the conference bill. The 107th Congress adjourned in November 2002 without passing a final energy bill. As of April 10, 2003, hearings by the 108th Congress on the new energy bill were under way.
This was the only recent year in which such a concerted attempt was made.
Now, the McCain-Kerry standards, together with those in the house bill, would have significantly reduced our use and almost certainly have spared us much of the sting that we are feeling today.
So, Congress should not give it's power to set fuel standards to the President, but they do need to pass them. If not, then it is the purpose of the people to get rid of them and elect people who will do the job that needs to be done.