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President Obama wants to make gas guzzling vehicles go extinct with tough new CAFE rules.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) is concerned the bill could cost American jobs.  (Source: Rick Snyder via Flickr)

The standard could also lead to more crash deaths, as automakers say such standards lead to cuts in material density and safety features to save on weight. The resulting cars are more fragile.  (Source: Car Insurance Comparison)
Plan would save on pollution, oil costs, but could increase vehicle costs, job losses, and accident deaths

The debate over the next Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard (set to run from 2017 to 2025) has just begun, and the political posturing appears to be in full effect.  From Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood to Senators and governors, everyone was expressing vocal thoughts about the "rough draft" of standards that United States President Barack Obama's (D) advisors unveiled on Monday.

I. 56 MPG = Lost Jobs?

Given that much of America is still recovering from recession, the topic of job loss is a sensitive one for many Americans, and is a powerful phrase to invoke in rhetoric.

Governor Rick Snyder (R-Michigan), whose state is home to America's three biggest automakers, was among 14 governors who wrote a cautionary letter to the heads of the DOT and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), employing this phrase to its full effect.

They write:

If fuel economy standards are increased too quickly, resulting in more expensive vehicles, many consumers can be expected to hold onto their older vehicles longer and defer buying a new car, which could put auto jobs across the country at risk.

The letter does not specify whether the proposed 56.2 mpg standard counts as increasing fuel economy "too quickly", but the timing certainly make it seem like a criticism of the plan.  Governor Snyder points to estimates that the plan will add between $2,100 USD and $2,600 USD to the cost of a vehicle, on average.  He urges the government to adopt a "sensible" standard, but stopped short at saying what such a standard would be in mpg.

The White House apparently decided to take the letter as a compliment, with spokesman Matt Lehrich writing:

We appreciate the governors' support for a national fuel economy standard that will save American families money at the pump and keep the jobs of the future here in America, and we share their commitment to preserving affordability and consumer choice.

II. Mich. Sen. Levin (D) Expresses Mixed Feelings on Bill

Sen. Carl Levin (D- Michigan) sent a separate letter to the White House demanding information on what data they used to decided on the proposed CAFE numbers.  In an interview he states, "We want to know how they arrived at that starting point. We will get that information one way or another."

The Senator admits, though, that without an agreement on the standard, the solution might be even less appealing.  If an agreement is not put in place, states like California will likely look to enact their own guidelines.  While this might please some state rights advocates, it is something automakers oppose -- they prefer a national standard.  Sen. Levin also opposes such provisions, stating, "[States] should not be given a waiver [to set their own standards]."

But without a binding national agreement, the government may have a tough time stopping states from doing so.  Technically the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a federal entity, has to approve of states' plans and grant them waivers from national standards.  A 2007 Supreme Court ruling in the case Massachusetts v. EPA, (No. 05-1120) found that it was illegal for the EPA to obstruct states from implementing their own standards by refusing to grant waivers.  The message seems unequivocal -- the EPA must grant waivers if states want them.

Sen. Levin adds that he is "very concerned" about the prospect of lost sales and jobs from the proposal.

III. Ray LaHood Wants Standard to be Finalized by July

Whether or not the final draft of the standard contains compromises, such as a lower mpg target, Secretary LaHood wants it to be delivered to the EPA and DOT by the end of July.

Secretary LaHood was critical in finalizing the current CAFE standard, which will require automakers to reach 34.1 mpg by 2016.  That standard, first set into motion by departing President George W. Bush (R) and finalized by President Obama, is estimated to cost automakers $51.5B USD over its course.

The tricky part about the standards is that while they cost on the vehicle side, they force savings at the pump.  The current standards are estimated to cut 1.8 billion barrels of oil by 2016.  With oil currently at $94.77 USD/barrel, that's a savings of $170.6B USD.  Further, by cutting fossil fuel combustion, the bill reduces emissions of toxic nitrogen and sulfur-containing gases that have been linked conclusively to chronic conditions such as asthma.

On the other hand, the bill may have raised other costs, as it is thought to have made the average vehicle less safe, contributing to automotive fatalities.

More extreme elements of the environmentalist movement have criticized both the previous and the pending CAFE provisions as being too weak.

The DOT Secretary offered cautious optimism that a compromise will be reached, commenting, "Our people are very professional at this. I think we proved that with the last CAFE standard. We got it right because we had every car company standing in the Rose Garden with the president. We want to get it right this time.""

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Chicken Little is at it again.
By YashBudini on 7/1/2011 9:33:53 PM , Rating: 2
The standard could also lead to more crash deaths, as automakers say such standards lead to cuts in material density and safety features to save on weight. The resulting cars are more fragile.

Oh please, I heard this foolish nonsense at the first round of CAFE standards. The result? Safer and heavier cars. Of all they predicted back then essentially none of it happened. Why? Because they couldn't see any technological breakthroughs in the future. Does anyone recall the individual in the early 20th century who proclaim that the US Patent Office should be closed because there was nothing left to invent, that we had already thought of everything? Probably an ancestor of the Chicken Little's whining today.

The premise of their scare tactics is that the ICE can't get a whole lot more efficient. And we know this for certain, how? Who's to say if in 5 years electronically controlling valve duration and lift won't make ICE capable of 2HP/CI on a NA engine? How do we know if battery technology won't allow huge reductions in weight for the same or better capacity? Do you think the crybabies have even heard of this?

Detroit probably put more effort into delaying tactics when the catalytic converter was suppose to be on cars in 1975 than it did working on converter technology in the first place. Frankly they made fools of themselves, "It can't be done." At the very same time Honda said "We're ready" and they were.

What Detroit wants to do is to move in baby steps and milk every dollar possible before moving to the next step. This is the old Intel way of doing business. If Intel had their way they'd still be charging $500 for the average desktop CPU.

As for losing jobs:
1. How many people are employed making catalytic converters?
2.Fuel injection parts including electronics?
3.Who's designing and implementing the OS that runs your car?
4.The air bag and all of its parts?

Perhaps a thriving industry around carbon fiber parts will show the world the US can once again be a technological force, but that certainly won't happen with the typical Detroit mentality.

RE: Chicken Little is at it again.
By dsx724 on 7/1/2011 11:24:48 PM , Rating: 2
typical Detroit mentality

Typical American Mentality. Sadly, the average intelligence in this country has regressed while ego and ignorance shot through the roof. I think that a lot of people lost hope when Reagan was voted in over Carter.

By YashBudini on 7/1/2011 11:45:02 PM , Rating: 2
Typical American Mentality

Hardly. While it's a niche market American designer and manufacturers of high end audio dominate.

Plenty of "organic" athletes excel. Most people? At what point is the does the attitude become, "Why bother when I can lose my job at the drop of a hat?" "My parent's tried to get ahead, died trying, never enjoyed themselves." And if you never believed it before after 2008 it was clearly, "Rat race is over, rats won."

I think that a lot of people lost hope when Reagan was voted in over Carter.

Perhaps it was a knee-jerk reaction much like the 2008 election. It's not like people had a real choice. All they got was a different flavor of pro-corporate omnivore.

"My sex life is pretty good" -- Steve Jobs' random musings during the 2010 D8 conference

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