New mandates will only harm auto industry

Freedom New Mexico

Even as Washington doles out tens of billions of dollars to rescue unprofitable Detroit automakers, President Barack Obama cleared the way Monday to impose billions of dollars of additional costs on the industry. He directed the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider granting 14 states waivers to set their own more strict regulations on auto emissions.

Needless to say, Detroit would be better off without Washington’s help or hindrance, something obviously lost on lawmakers and the president. His actions likely will result in unnecessary curbs on greenhouse gas emissions and counterproductive increases in fuel economy standards.

“Federal fuel economy standards are already a huge hidden burden on the industry, and the president is now proposing to make that burden even heavier,” observed Sam Kazman, Competitive Enterprise Institute general counsel regarding government-mandated corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. “Congress is spending billions to bail out the auto industry, and here’s the president coming up with new ways to sink it.”

Monday’s announcements, in the name of combating global warming and foreign-oil dependency, effectively could lead to automakers being forced to meet even higher fuel efficiency standards and to make even greater reductions in greenhouse gases than under existing federal law.

We are states’ rights advocates, so the idea states that desire to set their own standards is a concept with which we agree. But that doesn’t mean we applaud every nonsensical scheme cooked up in state capitals. Moreover, 14 states effectively would set national standards because it’s probably cost-prohibitive for carmakers to meet different standards for multiple jurisdictions.

Even so, the repercussions of granting tailpipe emission waivers would have far greater effect than merely increasing mileage averages from 27- to 35-miles-per gallon by 2020 and cutting so-called greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2016. The change from Bush Administration standards would add significant additional costs to an industry already reeling from red ink. And even the federal Department of Transportation concedes vehicle downsizing, a major means of meeting higher fuel economy, makes cars less safe in crashes.

We doubt most motorists would trade safety for a few more miles per gallon if it were left to them to decide. But Washington seems intent on not letting them decide. Ironically, the higher prices to meet these higher standards are likely to result in motorists hanging on to their older, less ecologically friendly and less-fuel-efficient vehicles, exactly the opposite of what’s intended.

Similarly, added costs to reduce largely innocuous greenhouse gas emissions are disproportionate to whatever benefits may be gained, particularly considering the tenuous cause-and-effect relationship between CO2 emissions, which are increasing, and global warming, which isn’t. President Obama’s actions threaten to worsen a slumping economy to advance arbitrary, ideological goals of dubious merit.