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Energy Bill Falls Short, but Appears to Avert CAFE Crisis

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December 17, 2007 | comments
by Congressman Paul Ryan

This column was published in the Janesville Gazette on December 17, 2007.  It refers to an energy bill the House passed on December 6th.

Although there’s much to dislike about the flawed energy bill passed by the House of Representatives recently, one bright spot is that it did include a compromise on fuel economy standards that – while not ideal – looks acceptable to U.S. auto manufacturers. Depending on what happens as Congress and government agencies move forward, this deal could serve as the basis for new regulations that raise the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard, while factoring in the concerns of our domestic automakers. The final outcome is of critical importance to GM and the Janesville area, and I will continue to closely monitor developments as this legislation advances and new CAFE rules are set.

Under the House-passed bill, auto manufacturers would need to ensure that their fleet of new vehicles gets at least 35 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2020, but the bill still provides for separate minimum standards for cars and light trucks. So, GM could produce SUVs that get less than 35 mpg, as long as higher-gas-mileage cars raise its fleetwide average to 35 mpg. 

I would prefer fuel economy rules based on vehicle class, rather than regulations that rely on a manufacturer’s fleetwide average. Having entirely separate fuel economy standards for light trucks, passenger cars, and other types of vehicles takes into account the differences between each class of vehicles and avoids giving an unfair advantage to foreign competitors whose current fleet consists mainly of smaller, more fuel-efficient autos. 

Nevertheless, the fuel economy program in the House-passed energy bill provides America’s auto industry sufficient flexibility that it earned the support of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Meanwhile, GM and other U.S. automakers had already been working to boost fuel economy with new hybrid models and development of electric and fuel cell vehicles. 

The bill also keeps authority for setting fuel economy standards with the Department of Transportation, although clarifications are needed to resolve uncertainty about the role of the Environmental Protection Agency. It hurts our auto manufacturers if they receive conflicting directives from different agencies. They need certainty to plan their product lines, so we should ensure any new regulations on fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions are consistent with the bill’s CAFE provisions.

While its fuel economy section lays the groundwork for progress on this issue by taking into account our automakers’ concerns, the broader energy bill fails in many other areas. As gas prices have soared, it has become crystal clear that we need to break our addiction to foreign oil. Instead, the House-passed legislation ignores the potential of America’s conventional energy resources, raises taxes on U.S. oil and gas producers, and wastes tax dollars on “green pork” bonds with little accountability. It also included a $500 million tax earmark for a Senator from Montana and other wasteful spending that does nothing to improve our energy security or lower costs for consumers. I could not support this legislation, which falls far short of an effective, comprehensive energy plan.

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