Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Additional loopholes in the CAFE bill

Gregg Easterbrook notes that the ramp-up to 35mpg, rather than requiring incremental increases on the way, is entirely voluntary until 2020. (Scroll about halfway down the page.)
And, that’s not all. It also has a waiver provision!

But TMQ is hugely suspicious, and hopes the media will watch the specifics of the bill carefully. The mpg legislation the Senate already has approved requires a one-third improvement in fuel efficiency — but nothing becomes mandatory until 2020, meaning Detroit could continue to do nothing for 13 years. Worse, the Senate version has a waiver provision that says that if the new standards prove too onerous, automakers can ask they be waived before 2020. That is a formula for what Washington specializes in: the appearance of dramatic action while nothing actually happens.

(Automakers drag their feet, then demand a waiver.) In January, George W. Bush proposed, and Barack Obama endorsed, new mpg rules that would take effect right now, mandating a 4 percent annual improvement in fuel efficiency until a one-third overall betterment is achieved. How often do a sitting conservative president and one of his leading liberal opponents agree on something? The Bush-Obama mpg reform would have gone into effect immediately, with immediate positive results. I worry that what Congress ends up enacting on mpg will be a make-believe bill that sets lofty targets but has no teeth. And I worry that the mainstream media, excited by gaffes and scandals but endlessly bored by the details of public-policy proposals, will be too gullible to notice the difference between real mpg reform and make-believe.

Easterbrook goes on to note that cars now don’t meet the current 27.5mpg average. Since the government reformulated its fuel-economy tests closer to real-world standards, I have no doubt that’s true. I also don’t doubt that current standards probably aren’t being enforced that well by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Finally, he blames the increase in auto horsepower over the last decade or so as being a contributor to road rage. Hmm….