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Republicans and CAFE Standards


The auto industry won’t be meeting the U.S. government’s 54.5-mile-per-gallon (mpg) fleet average fuel economy target in 2025. But neither will it have to.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) last month released for public comment a draft Technical Assessment Report (TAR) for light-duty vehicle Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and Green House Gas (GHG) standards for vehicle model years 2022–2025.

The report takes the 54.5 mpg goal off the table. It turns out that low gas prices have increased consumer demand for SUVs, crossovers, and light trucks — all of which get lower gas mileage than cars. Car-manufacturer fleet fuel-economy averages are sales-weighted. The original 2025 standard assumed that cars would make up two-thirds of the new vehicles sold that year and that SUVs, crossovers, and light trucks would make up one-third. The government now estimates the overall fleet average fuel economy will be between 50 mpg and 52.6 mpg by the 2025 model year, reflecting a “more even split between cars and trucks in the marketplace.” During a conference call with the media about the report, “government officials said the 2025 mandate isn’t actually a mandate, but an estimate of where the auto industry could be in nine years.” The TAR is open for public comment for 60 days. Final determination on the 2022-to-2025 model-year regulations will be made by April 1, 2018.

CAFE standards were established by Part A of Title III of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, which was passed largely in response to the 1973 Arab oil embargo. The first standards were 18, 19, and 20 mpg for passenger cars in model years 1978, 1979, and 1980. The standards were intended to roughly double the average fuel economy of manufacturers’ new car fleets to 27.5 mpg by 1985. Lower standards were also established for light trucks. The NHTSA was given the authority to regulate fuel economies for automobiles and light trucks.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 raised CAFE standards and introduced new standards for medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles. The new legislation “raised the fuel economy standards of America’s cars, light trucks, and SUVs to a combined average of at least 35 miles per gallon by 2020 — a 10 mpg increase over 2007 levels — and required standards to be met at maximum feasible levels through 2030.” Standards finalized by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in August 2012 set the 54.5 mpg fleet average fuel-economy target for 2025.

According to the NHTSA, a part of the DOT, “CAFE’s purpose is to reduce energy consumption by increasing the fuel economy of cars and light trucks. NHTSA has set standards to increase CAFE levels rapidly over the next several years, which will improve our nation’s energy security and save consumers money at the pump.” And according to the DOT, “The new CAFE standards will not only improve energy efficiency of the Nation’s fleet, but also reduce our petroleum consumption, increase the availability of alternative fuel vehicles, promote the advancement of innovative technologies, and lower greenhouse gas emissions both helping to mitigate climate change and improve air quality.”

There are just three problems with these worthy goals: they are unconstitutional, they are illegitimate purposes of government, and they entail unwarranted government interference in the free market.

The Constitution nowhere authorizes the federal government to have anything to do with fuel, economy, efficiency, energy, technology, emissions, pollution, air quality, transportation, or the auto industry.

The only possible legitimate functions of government are defense, judicial, and policing activities. There is no justification for any government action beyond keeping the peace; prosecuting, punishing, and exacting restitution from those who initiate violence against the person or property of others; and constraining those who would attempt to interfere with the peaceful actions of others. It is not the purpose of government to reduce energy consumption, increase vehicle fuel economy, set standards for fuel economy, improve the nation’s energy security, save consumers money, reduce petroleum consumption, increase the availability of alternative fuel vehicles, promote technological advancement, lower greenhouse-gas emissions, mitigate climate change, improve air quality, or have an energy policy.

It is car and truck manufacturers who should be deciding fuel economy standards for their fleets, how efficient their vehicles should be, what kind of alternative fuel vehicles they will produce, what kind of technologies they should implement, and how to respond to the desires of consumers. There should be no government interference in the automobile market any more than there should be government interference in the banana market, the pencil market, or the toaster market.

So, what does all of this have to do with Republicans?

The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, although passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress, was signed into law by a Republican president and had Republican votes for its initial and final passage.

During the last six years of Democrat Bill Clinton’s presidency, Republicans controlled both houses of Congress. No legislation to repeal the Energy Policy and Conservation Act was ever passed by Congress and presented to the president for his signature.

The Republicans had control of both houses of Congress for more than four years during the presidency of Republican George W. Bush. The Energy Policy and Conservation Act could have been repealed in its entirety or just the section on CAFE standards.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, although passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress, was also signed into law by a Republican president and had Republican votes for its initial and final passage.

And finally, consider this language in the new 2016 Republican Party platform:

Our Constitution is in crisis. More than 90 percent of federal requirements are now imposed by regulatory agencies, without any vote of the House or Senate or signature of the President.

For more than a century, however, Congress has delegated increasing amounts of legislative authority to executive departments, agencies, and commissions, laying the foundation for today’s vast administrative state. Unelected bureaucrats in the executive branch now write countless rules with the force of law and arbitrarily punish individuals who disobey those rules. The Constitution makes clear that these powers were granted to Congress by the people and must therefore remain solely with the people’s elected representatives. We call on Congress to begin reclaiming its constitutional powers from the bureaucratic state by requiring that major new federal regulations be approved by Congress before they can take effect, such as through the Regulation Freedom Amendment. We further affirm that courts should interpret laws as written by Congress rather than allowing executive agencies to rewrite those laws to suit administration priorities.

Sounds good on the surface. But when Republicans had absolute control of the government and could have actually done something about reigning in the “vast administrative state,” they did absolutely nothing. They, in fact, allowed it to expand further. No Republican will be making the elimination of CAFE standards an issue in the upcoming election. They have made peace with the very “vast administrative state” they helped to create.

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