Thursday, April 27, 2006

We could have averted this in 2002.

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.


Anonymous said...

But wait! There's more!

Mineta said a simple increase in standards under the current Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) system "would increase fatalities on America's highways, raise health care costs and reduce employment. As a result, the administration would oppose any increase in passenger car CAFE standards without corresponding reform." (emphasis mine)

I'm surprised Mineta isn't trying to say that increasing CAFE standards would be giving aid and comfort to al-Qaeda. What exactly is Bush asking Congress to give him authority for?

Anonymous said...

eli, I am not sure I disagree with you but let me play devil's advocate (strange role for me huh?)

Why not jsut let the market work this thing out. If the American consumer is really concerned with gas prices, won't they natually move toward more fuel efficient vehicles without congress acting? There are many, many fuel efficient vehicles as an option now (as opposed to 10 years ago.) And, if the American consumer is not really that concerned, why should congress get involved. They are there to work for our interests aren't they?

Eli Blake said...

Indy Voter:

That is what they said just a few years ago.


The problem with letting the market decide is that the market is focused exclusively on short term solutions. And a problem like this involves long term planning. Had the bill been passed in 2002, it is likely that at least some of the cars on the road today would be using less fuel, and prices, though still high, would not be this high.

Besides, I don't think people consciously decided that they wanted cars that used more fuel, the auto companies and the oil companies just lobbied Congress to keep the fuel efficiency down on ALL vehicles.

Karen said...

"Senate Republicans proposed a $100 rebate check for millions of taxpayers Thursday to counter high gasoline costs.

Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee called the proposal “a bold package that will give consumers some relief” from gasoline prices that have passed $3 a gallon in many parts of the country."

They steal from the federal treasury and then they steal from you at tax time. Boy, am I ever glad bush, et al are in charge. Whatever would happen to us if they weren't!?!

btw, $100 will be one or two fillups.

Eli Blake said...


That $100 rebate is the dumbest idea I've ever heard of. Some people don't even drive, so you'd be sending them a hundred dollars for nothing, while other people (like truck drivers and cabbies) drive professionally and it would be like putting a bandaid on a gaping wound.

I'm not a fan of tax cuts in general, but I'd even say a temporary cut in the federal gasoline tax would be a better short term solution than a knee-jerk $100 check.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the proposed text, but from the news reports this sounds a lot like the rebate checks that went out in 2001. The government won't be giving people money, it will be letting them delay taxes they already owe. Cheap theatrics.

I thought it was theatrics in 2001 as well, but I was willing to allow that there might be something other than tawdry political gain involved since the purpose was to get a little more spending cash into people's hands, thus easing the economic downturn we were facing (this was before 9/11). I don't see that justification this time.

I disagree with your last comment, Eli. I'd rather have cheap theatrics that do little or nothing than deficit-increasing theatrics that do little or nothing.