In an effort to fulfill one of his campaign promises and promote his administration’s clean air policy, President Barack Obama directed the EPA to grant waivers to fourteen states to allow them to enforce tougher fuel efficiencies on automobiles this week than the current federal ones by memoranda. An additional document directs the EPA to notify these same automobile manufacturers by March of this year of an increase in the federal fuel efficiency standard, one that will come due on vehicles manufactured for the 2011 model year.
None of this should be a particular surprise to anyone, including the auto makers, as a greener economy and the battle against global warming were keystones in President Obama’s campaign platform. The surprise is that the immediate focus is on the automakers. After all, aren’t these same automakers a victim of the downturn in the economy? Aren’t automobile sales at a record low? Didn’t we just bail out the US auto industry to the tune of about 13.4 billion dollars?
Now perhaps my memory is not what it used to be, but during the crying and wringing of hands that was going on last year as Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors (along with their partner, the United Auto Workers) came to Washington to look for a handout from Congress, wasn’t the CAFÉ (Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency) standard named as one of the chief culprits of their current plight? Weren’t Congress and the voters told that these unrealistic standards had seriously hurt the US auto industry? Weren’t we told that relaxation of these standards would go a long way to the long-term survivability of these organizations?
How will it help then that California and thirteen other states will get to set their own standards, above and beyond the Federal one? Since auto manufacturers and their parts suppliers are not only spread across the country, but the world, how is this not left to a national standard under Interstate Commerce Law and the EPA? How will attempting to meet these potentially fifteen different standards make it easier on the US automakers?
And then there are the real questions:
What quantifiable impact is expected to occur if these new state and Federal CAFÉ standards are followed, as they will only impact new vehicles and not those already on the road? Will other countries follow along in this noble effort, or are we to stand alone as the bastion of these new greener standards? How much will compliance with these multiple standards cost the US auto industry? How much will enforcement of these multiple state standards costs the states, costs that will have to be covered by either the taxpayer or the manufacturers? How much of these costs will be then passed on to the consumer, further driving up the cost of automobiles and thereby further slowing the purchase of new vehicles? What further bailouts will be required to make up for revenue shortfalls incurred by Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors as a result of regulations forced upon this industry by the same government that is also bailing them out?
So let me get this straight. We are going to funnel taxpayer dollars into an auto industry bankrupted by fat union contracts and strangled by government regulation, only to leave the contracts in place and keep or increase the restrictive regulation. We will then have to spend further tax dollars to enforce these new regulations at the state and federal level. We will then again inevitably be forced to funnel more taxpayer dollars into these same automakers in order to help them cover the costs of these new or increased regulations that we have not only allowed, but encouraged to be put in place.
This is the same type of thinking that tells us that the only answer to the problems caused by government is … more government. And so as we watch this situation unfold before our very eyes, we can paraphrase the lyrics from that old children’s song, “The wheels on the government bus go round and round, round and round, round and round…”.
Tim Higgins blogs at justblowingsmoke.blogspot.com.