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Congress Keeps Cuddling & Coddling Car Companies

Originally published on Gas2.

Congressman Fred Upton is the senior representative from the great state of Michigan in the US Congress. He is also the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. During hearings last week, Congressman Upton called for relaxing the CAFE targets the government will set after it completes its review of the program in April, 2018.

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Upton is a perfect example of why so many Americans are willing to throw the dice on Donald Trump. Our Congress continues to be for sale to the highest bidder. People are disgusted by this collection of wealthy, self-interested, double-dealing white men who are always willing to throw the public under the bus in order to please their corporate masters and feather their own nests. It’s astonishing that a low-life like Trump actually looks good compared to most members of Congress.

In his remarks at the committee hearing, Upton had this to say:

“There is no question that improved vehicle fuel efficiency is a worthy goal, but not if it is reached in a way that harms consumers. With the average cost of a new car at $34,000 and rising, we don’t need any unnecessarily costly Washington mandates.

“Being from Michigan, I also worry about the impact these standards could have on the long-term health of the auto sector. The industry is doing well now, thanks in large part to pent-up demand after the last recession and very low interest rates that make financing about as cheap as it has ever been. But these two temporary factors will not last, and the industry will be stuck with these costly standards that increase every year.”

Yup, your constituents want you to worry about the “long-term health of the auto sector,” Congressman, rather than their own long-term health. They are perfectly willing to die before their time just so long as Ford,  GM, and Chrysler continue making money. They are far more concerned about shareholder value than being poisoned by the water they drink in cities like Flint.

How stupid does a person have to be to focus on the rising price of automobiles and place all of the blame on the cost of meeting fuel economy standards? Let me ask you a question or two, Congressman: What is in your driveway? Does it have leather seats, power windows, doors, steering, brakes, and sunroof? Does it have ABS, traction control, lane keeping, blind spot detection, and emergency forward braking? Does it have adaptive cruise control? How about internet radio, a WiFi hot spot, or a touchscreen with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto?

And while we’re at it, Congressman, does it fold up like a cardboard box in a collision or does it protect its driver and passengers like a vault when disaster strikes? Shouldn’t you rail against the regulations that mandate crash protection standards more than you blather on about fuel economy? The auto industry could save a lot of money if it built its cars like tuna fish cans instead of wasting all that money on safety. Would your constituents like it if they were being killed or maimed more frequently because it promotes the “long-term health of the auto sector?”

Everyone likes to cry wolf about CAFE standards. “Oh my God! 54.5 miles per gallon! That’s crazy! Insane! Can you imagine how much money that is going to cost the poor car companies? How can they survive this onslaught of heavy-handed government regulations?” Well, actually, Congressman, if you can take a moment away from pleasing your corporate benefactors to pay attention, CAFE numbers are based on the old standard that the government used a decade ago, the one that got changed because it was so far out of whack with real-world numbers that is was useless.

If the current formula is applied to the magic world of CAFE regulation, the cars in 2025 will have to average 38 miles per gallon to comply. Oh, that’s not quite so scary, is it, Congressman? In fact, earlier this year, regulators said the automotive industry has already developed the technology necessary to meet the higher standards.

Here’s another thing to think about, Congressman. There are countries outside of North America. This may comes as a shock to you in your insular little world, but Ford, and GM, and Chrysler all sell cars in markets outside North America and regulators in those places are holding carmakers to even higher standards than the US is. So unless you think the “long-term health of the auto sector” will be maximized if those companies can only sell their cars to Americans, the automakers will need to raise their game anyway.

What automakers really need, Congressman, is uniform standards. You want to talk about money? How much do you think it costs car companies to make an engine that meets Euro standards, another engine for North America, another for Japan, another for China, and another for Brazil?

Here’s another shock for you, Congressman: The American public doesn’t believe anything the car companies say. They have been inundated with hyperbole from them about regulations since the 1950s, when car company executives went before Congress and said that safety doesn’t sell. The industry has opposed every new technology from padded dashboards to airbags. The American public has endured endless recalls, sudden unintended acceleration syndrome, faulty ignition switches, emissions cheating scandals, and deadly airbag mechanisms. To paraphrase an old joke about you and your colleagues, Congressman, for most Americans, the answer to the question, “How do you tell if an auto executive is lying?” is, “His lips are moving.”

Anyone who doubts that Congress is in the pocket of corporations needs to listen to what other Republicans on the panel had to say. They want to dismantle CAFE entirely and look with avid anticipation to a new administration headed by the blusterer-in-chief, Donald Trump. “You could make a good intellectual case to just replace CAFE and let the market work. But we need a new president,” Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said. “If Mr. Trump is president, we’ll be back.”

Actually, you are partially right, Mr. Barton. Market forces should be allowed to determine what cars people buy. But only if the cost of fossil fuels accurately reflects the full effect they have on people and the planet. Otherwise, this is a warped market biased toward burning fossils, not an ideological free market. Impose a carbon fee to balance out the “untaxed externalities” that fossil fuels avoid paying — things like sea level rise, increased health risks, and the human misery caused by living on polluted land, drinking polluted water, and breathing polluted air. Then let the market work. Just see what happens to fossil fuels when gasoline costs $10 a gallon. We won’t need government regulation then.

The problem with people like Mr. Barton is they are always screaming about a level playing field, but what they really mean is that the playing field is not tilted far enough in their favor. Want to talk about a carbon fee or a national cap & trade program similar to the one China is considering? No, I thought not, sir. “All hat and no cattle,” as the people of Texas are fond of saying.

Graphic via Facebook

 
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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.

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