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Next Stop, the Twilight Zone

by Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor

Jason_Pic130Obama’s position on tailpipe emissions presents a strange paradox: traditional supporters of states’ rights are clamoring for one national standard, while federalists want the states to decide. It seems that we’ve entered bizarro world. But it goes deeper. Allowing states to set their own emissions standards is a thinly-disguised attempt to impose higher national standards through backdoor means.

On January 26, Obama ordered the EPA to review its denial of California’s request for exemption from national emissions standards. EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, had previously said, "If I am confirmed, I will administer with science as my guide.” In a clear swipe at her predecessor, Jackson added, “Political appointees will not compromise the integrity of EPA's technical experts to advance particular regulatory outcomes." Under the Energy Independence and Security Act, automakers must attain a fleetwide average of 35 MPG by 2020. California’s state-centric proposal would up the ante: 36 MPG by 2016. 13 other states, plus Washington DC, have adopted similar proposals.

EPA Logo-300The auto industry was quick to condemn the move. National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Chairman John McEleney said, “A single national fuel-economy standard is smarter than a patchwork of state regulations that will only further endanger our industry.” David Regan, VP of Legislative Affairs for NADA, was more blunt: “the establishment of 13 state-based fuel economy regimes would cause irreparable harm to an already struggling automobile industry.”

Clearly, the auto industry won’t accommodate each state individually. That would be too impractical and costly. Instead, they’ll be forced to update their entire fleet. The national standard will be raised through backdoor means. And the timetable will accelerate by four years. But it gets better. Former EPA Administrator, Steven Johnson, had cited a 33.8 figure as California’s goal. But California disputed this, claiming their proposal would enact a 36 MPG standard by 2016. This equates to over 40 MPG by 2020.  

On February 6, the EPA issued a notice to the Federal Register. They declared their intention to hold a public hearing on March 5 (recalling their egregious failure to solicit interested parties’ opinions in the Energy Star fiasco). The outcome has been virtually preordained. If there’s any doubt, see the notice’s summary: “The denial (edit: to California’s request) was a substantial departure from EPA’s longstanding interpretation of the Clean Air Act’s waiver provisions and the history of granting waivers to California for its new motor vehicle emission program.”

Obama’s intentions are good. But with auto sales at a 27-year low, and our economy in the toilet, this isn’t the time for costly compliance standards.  And you know what they say about good intentions…

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