Something Missing In Plea for Better Fuel EconomyBy John O'Dell June 23, 2011
A group of former Republican officeholders has sent a letter to President Obama urging him to see to it that his administration sets a tough new national average fuel efficiency standard of as much as 60 miles per gallon for automakers to achieve by 2025. The letter is good news for backers of such a policy because it adds a conservative voice to the argument that the government should be able to demand that our personal transportation fleet lend a hand in the effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce dependence on imported oil.
The GOP group's letter, of course, doesn't directly address greenhouse gases or climate change that would be too radical an approach for members of a party that appears to have been taken over by climate change skeptics but it does raise the "E" word emissions in its quite valid argument that we need "aggressive motor vehicle fuel efficiency and emission standards to help relieve the United States from its dangerous dependence on oil." The letter writers also say that their review of the present state of technology leads them to believe that increasing average fuel efficiency by 6 percent a year which would get us to 60 mpg by 2025 is "achievable and cost-effective for consumers."
There's a big hole in the letter, though down at the bottom where nine former Republican legislators, three former governors and former EPA administrators for Presidents Reagan, Nixon, Ford and both Bushes (one of the EPA administrators, New Jersey's Christine Whitman, is also one of the former governors) have inked their names. Not a single currently serving GOP officeholder has signed.
Former New York Congressman Sherwood Boehlert, an organizer of the project, said the reason is that no current officeholders were asked to sign that the purpose of the letter is to inform and educate current officeholders. But if that's so, why was it sent to the President rather than to Congress, which needs at least as much informing and education as does the White House. Could it be because most anything having to do with federal regulation has come under fire in Congress since the GOP was hijacked by the wrongly named Tea Party conservatives (those guys didn't toss the tea into Boston Harbor back in 1773 because they were anti-tax and anti government but because the were opposed to being taxed by Britain and to being held hostage by big business in the form of the British East India Co. and its monopoly on tea.)
The letter writers lay out a pretty compelling argument for using government regulation the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard to require the auto industry to come up with the technologies needed to achieve the goal of reduced oil use through improved fuel economy. National security is a pretty powerful trump card, even if one believes, as outspoken former General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz famously remarked, that using CAFE to enforce fuel efficiency is like trying to resolve the national obesity crisis by decreeing that clothing makers can only produce small sizes.
"If oil continues to be a primary driver of our economy and security, we will hand our destiny to other nations, many of which do not share our interests," the former Republican officeholders wrote. We're not only handing them our destiny, but a cool $200 billion a year the amount we're now shipping overseas to purchase oil. "Reductions in fuel consumption could not come at a more important time. With thousands of U.S. troops fighting overseas, unrest in the Middle East and consumers at home feeling the pain at the pump we must resolve to unshackle ourselves from the world oil market."
Even Tea Party darlings like Sen. Rand Paul the Kentucky Republican and son of the movement's godfather perennial presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul of Texas might have a hard time arguing against that. But then the letter says that "strong, forward-looking standards for new vehicle fuel efficiency and emissions will provide industry with needed certainty for investment in new technologies." The idea that it is appropriate sometimes to use government regulation to force technology is one that tea partiers could never swallow. That's likely the real reason the letter writers didn't go after sitting members of the present GOP block in Congress - no one would sign for fear of being blackballed. And that's a shame.