Sunday, June 24, 2007

CAFE Standards--the Long View From Home and Abroad

Sometimes it takes distance to get a better view of things. Take for example the Guardian's reporting on our fuel standards controversy. Senate votes for first rise in fuel standard in 32 years. 32 years. How old were you 32 years ago?

Fuel standards were introduced in 1975 after the Arab oil embargo. Not surprisingly, U.S. automakers have a history of balking at the standards. In 1973, EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus gave the auto industry extra time to meet a goal set for 1975. He relented after a court order required him to reconsider the time line. He said the automakers could have extra time for the sake of consumers; the manufacturers argued they might have trouble producing enough vehicles to meet demand and that was bad for the public. (New York Times, April 12, 1973)

This week, automakers didn't make that argument. Objection to the standards that passed was framed around industry profits and unreasonable expectations for improvement. Where did the public go? How about consumers?

Concessions to big oil, which avoided a $32 billion tax intended to stimulate development of alternative fuels, are obscene but not surprising.

The crisis around fuel standards is not new. Manufacturers resisting change to business as usual is not new. Saying 'no' to the auto industry, this is new.