Friday, November 30, 2007

Big Three to get bribed as part of 35mpg deal

That’s the word on what it’s going to involve to get a 35mpg CAFE bill past Congress. Now, the NYT story doesn’t use the word “bribe,” but here’s the details.

Such a deal would also provide incentives for the three big American manufacturers to continue building small cars in this country, preserving an estimated 17,000 jobs. The United Automobile Workers union and members of Congress from automaking states insisted on that provision as a condition of supporting the broader compromise.

The deal also appears to include mileage credits for so-called flexible-fuel vehicles that can run on a mixture of gasoline in relatively small proportions, and ethanol. It is comparatively inexpensive to convert vehicles to run on ethanol blends, but the fuel is available at a limited number of service stations, so the gasoline savings are expected to be minimal in the next few years.

And, here’s all that’s wrong with that.

First, E85 is a horrible answer to fuel economy. We don’t have nearly enough corn to make that kind of ethanol, the 51-cent a gallon payout for ethanol lines the pockets of ADM and Cargill, and we have no idea of celluolosic ethanol can in any way come close to filling the gap.

Second, the amount of incentives aren’t being spelled out, but you can bet it ain’t cheap. For two decades, the Big Three have resisted making better small cars and otherwise deal with a changing oil future and now, they’re getting rewarded for bad behavior. I was against the Chrysler bailout in 1981 and I’m against this now.

Also, it’s conservatives and Democratic moderates who allegedly are strong capitalists chucking principles for unprincipled protectionism again. (There is principled protectionism, for unfair job competition by countries with no worker safeguards, etc., but, Congress on both sides of the aisle never talks about that seriously, let alone acts.)

Meanwhile, some good provisions are likely to be dropped:
Reaching agreement on that timetable is likely to require Congressional leaders to drop provisions like a mandate that electric utilities nationwide generate 15 percent of their power from renewable sources, including wind, solar and hydroelectric power. Utilities lobbied intensively against that requirement.

A House-passed measure to repeal $16 billion in tax breaks for the oil industry is also expected to be scrapped, aides said. President Bush threatened to veto the entire package if the oil and gas tax bill were included.

So, Congress is kowtowing to a threatened Bush veto rather than trying to shame him for blocking “energy security.” And, Congress is also kowtowing to Big Electricity (and Big Coal behind it).

And, our Senatorial Presidential candidates? Well, on the Democratic side, Obama has shown himself to be the worst anti-environmental panderer so far.

Update, Dec. 1: The House passed the revised bill, including ramping up ethanol requirements to 20 billion gals/year AND, even worse, keeping separate CAFE standards for cars and light trucks. I'm disgusted.