Huge Obama Win on Fuel Economy Under Investigation by Republicans

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While the Right Wing in the US held the world hostage over whether it would pay the bills it ran up under Bush, the Obama administration quietly and without a fuss achieved a goal for greenhouse gas reduction long thwarted by the opposition party, and raised US fuel economy standards to 54.5 miles per gallon.

The world despaired when US Republicans effectively ended our last chance at forestalling an actual impending crisis, in filibustering last year’s climate legislation, destroying the US goal of reducing US carbon emissions in line with the Copenhagen Accord. Climate change will truly impact humanity and civilization for the next ten thousand years. But political policy is incremental, and progress sometimes happens when our attention is on other, more high drama events.

Last week, while being pelted with eggs by his own party for negotiating with terrorists in the Republican party over the debt limit, Obama quietly finalized a very progressive deal on climate. Under the agreement, automakers will now further raise fuel economy standards in the US to average 54.5 mpg by 2025.

A twenty point rise in a CAFE requirement in just ten years might seem like an unrealistically high requirement to Americans used to automakers digging their heels in, but the industry has proved capable of meeting much higher efficiency standards for Europe, which has demanded higher fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions  for a decade, since signing the Kyoto Accord on climate change. For example, Ford’s Ka for the EU market already got 56 mpg by 2008. Its Econetic model this year gets 67 mpg.

Still, for the US consumer, used to industry control of policy, it’s a startlingly high number. However, the US auto industry has only recently paid back its government bailout money authorized in the stimulus bill, and perhaps that shifts the balance of power.

The House Oversight Chairman, Republican Darrel Issa is now launching an investigation into the process by which the administration got automakers to agree to such an incredibly good deal for drivers, who stand to save thousands of dollars annually in fuel costs. He has issued subpoenas for all the automakers involved, requiring that they turn over all their documents from February on, related to the deal.

And that is hardly the end of it, pledges Issa’s office. “This is just the first step,” Issa spokesman Jeffrey Solsby told Morning Energy on Monday. “We’re going to see where the information takes us.”

He may be correct in suspecting some pressure. After all, these are the same automakers who lobbied Republicans (and several Democrats) hard and held a CAFE increase to a mere 34 or 35 mpg when Democrats took over the House in 2006 and began pushing for better fuel efficiency standards.

What changed?

Several things. Peak oil is pretty much staring the industry in the face by now. And the Obama administration’s 2009 executive order that requires that federal agencies get greenhouse gas reductions of 28% has started a certain market for a very large number of fuel efficient vehicles, making retooling assembly lines much more cost-effective. How big is this guaranteed initial market? Federal agencies bought 63,794 vehicles in 2010, spending $4.6 billion.

Electric vehicles also got a boost by this administration’s investment in advanced battery technology under the stimulus bill, which will start to pay off in the next five to ten years. Despite a shaky start six months ago during a shaken economy, electric vehicles will almost certainly be a significant percentage of cars being developed by 2025.

But most importantly, he who pays the piper calls the tune. Issa is on to something. Obama bailed out these bums; they owe him.

Republicans like Issa have quite literally pledged to the fossil lobby to pooh pooh climate legislation because of the money to be made by their funders on the last few years of fossil fuel. But thanks to an administration that persists on progressive goals – even after setbacks like last year’s filibustered climate bill – we all took just one more incremental step away from the suicidal cliff edge of the dangerous and expensive new climate that Issa and his party are recklessly driving us over with their reckless disregard for the science of climate change.

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