Presidential Candidates Have it In for Cars

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At the Detroit Auto Show, when asked Bob Lutz why the carmakers had caved on CAFE standards, he said that it was like being allowed to keep one leg when they want both. The carmakers caved because they feared much worse.

After the California Republican presidential candidate debate two days ago, it seems Lutz was exactly right. Even the Republicans seem to have it in for the auto industry.

You need a bit of background, however, to get the full picture.

California, led by its ostensibly Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and nineteen other states want the power to set their own CO2 emissions standards for automobiles.

Though couched in terms of “emissions,” the standards are really fuel economy standards. They’d translate to requiring cars and trucks to meet a 40.5 mpg standard by 2016.

The law does not allow California and its confederate states to do that, however, unless the Environmental Protection Agency allows them to do so, and the EPA – right after the new CAFE standards passed Congress - said, ‘no.” The new CAFE standards require 35 mpg by 2020 and set different standards for cars and trucks.

The law is a reaction to the way that the first pollution standards in the United States were set. California adopted its own legislation, establishing the “California Air Resources Board.” When the feds stepped in to set federal standards, they kept the opportunity for California to set its own standards open – for a time. Then, that authority expires, absent a “waiver” given to them by the EPA. However, if such a waiver were to be issued, then other states would be free to adopt the California standards.

With that background, here’s the question to the Republicans, posed in the California debate held at the Reagan Library last Wednesday night, as the candidates were arrayed against the backdrop of the former Air Force One Boeing 707.

All four Republican presidential candidates were asked if they supported the California legislation which would set California’s own CO2 standards.

McCain: “I applaud the Governor’s efforts and that of other states in this region and other states across America to try to eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change.”.

Romney: “I side with the states to be able to make their own regulations with regards to emissions in their own states.”

Fringe candidates Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul also both supported the California legislation.

Apart from the political issues associated with global warming – such as whether it really exists, a topic on which climate scientists disagree – there are practical issues associated with California’s effort to set its own CO2 standards.

Such as whether California should be allowed to run the United States.

As a practical matter, allowing California to set the standards would mean that mileage and emissions standards everywhere in the U.S. would be the California standards. Indeed, this is exactly what happened in the 1960’s when the California Air Resources Board, CARB, first set its own emissions standards. That is one of the reasons that federal law now prohibits California (and other states) from setting their own standards.

But, there is also an issue of fairness. Automakers uniformly say that it is both unfair and futile to put the burden of reducing CO2 emissions on them. Rather, they favor an approach that takes into account emissions from other industries and emissions in other countries. To them, it is unreasonable to force the auto industry to incur massive expense to meet standards which, even if fully implemented, can have only negligible impact on CO2 emissions world-wide.

There is not a single car on the American market today which could meet the California standards. The European Union has just backed off of CO2 standards considerably less stringent than those California wishes to implement. The EU, which is expected to further reduce its future standards, concluded that their proposed standards were utterly impractical.

Yet, every single Republican candidate supported what California wants to do.

Romney today backed off that position, attempting to “clarify” by saying that he meant that states should be able to regulate some pollutants, but not CO2. His statement said that [w]hen Michigan makes the same cars and trucks regardless of whether they are bound for California, Vermont or Massachusetts, it makes more sense to have one set of federal regulations to address CO2 emissions from vehicles rather than a patchwork of different state regulations.”

When Romney was Governor of Massachusetts, that state adopted the California regulations – though, like California, it has been unable to implement them due to the lack of an EPA waiver. According to the Detroit Free Press, Romney did not oppose that move and his administration praised the standards at the time as a “significant step in cleaning up our air.”

The topic has not come up in the Democratic presidential debates, perhaps because the position of the Democratic presidential candidates is obvious.

Both Senators Clinton and Obama voted for the much more Senate version of the ultimate CAFE legislation, legislation which was more stringent than that ultimately adopted. Obama has backed the California plan to reduce carbon in vehicle fuels, saying he’d mandate it nationwide. As reported by ABC News, Clinton’s spokesperson, her husband, yesterday informed his audience that, "[w] just have to slow down our economy and cut back our greenhouse gas emissions ’cause we have to save the planet for our grandchildren."

Of course, the future of fun cars is still probably secure.

In China.

Ralph Kalal
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  (2) posted on 08.11.2008

Well, Barack Obama and John McCain have made recent statements on US offshore oil drilling while on the US presidential campaign trail. Well, Offshore Drilling is a huge issue right now and rightly so. Between the
desire to deal with the economic mess that is being spurred by the price
of oil and the on-going longer-term concern of global warming, how do we
address all of this? Check out Obama and McCain in side-by-side videos
on clash/US Offshore Oil Drilling comparing their recent
comments on ANWR and offshore oil drilling. It is, if nothing else,
very interesting to hear their perspective.

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