April 25, 2008
Bush's Backhand on Fuel Economy
We colored ourselves surprised earlier this week when the Bush administration announced its plans for implementing the increase in fuel economy standards passed by Congress last December. The proposed rules, covering the years 2011-2015, would raise the average fuel economy of our cars, trucks, and SUVs to 31.6 miles per gallon by 2015. This is a strong start -- achieving significantly more than half the progress needed to reach the Congressionally-mandated 35 miles per gallon by 2020.
(Of course just about anything would be better than the three decades we've spent in the doldrums. In fact, fuel economy has been slowly but steadily declining each year since the waning days of the Reagan administration. It hovers around 25 miles per gallon these days -- about what the Ford Model T got in 1908.)
The Bush administration do something good on the environment you say? Without a Supreme Court ruling forcing them? Without a last minute intervention from the White House to tamp down science in favor of politics? Sounds too good to be true, right?
Well, turns out it was -- sort of. The fuel economy rules are just as strong as we initially thought, but then it seems the administration just couldn't help itself and decided to rain on its own parade by engaging in some real nefariousness.
Buried deep in the 417 page document was a diatribe against various courts that included an outright attack on the ability of California and more than 15 other states to move forward with their landmark global warming emissions standards for vehicles. This matter is of course the subject of approximately 2.1 bazillion lawsuits, tangential to a Supreme Court case, and the focal point of no less than three Congressional investigations. So those cheeky folks at the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration -- the ones who administer fuel economy rules -- decided they'd try to put an end to all this bickering via imperial fiat. Namely through inserting a single sentence in the proposed rule that simply said states couldn’t implement their plans.
This was particularly cheeky, since, well, NHTSA has approximately zero authority over anything to do with the California standards since they are legally and practically distinct from fuel economy standards. Also, I'm pretty sure that that one episode of Schoolhouse Rock about how laws are made didn’t include a ditty about draft rulemakings from executive branch administrative agencies.
Not to say that the Bush administration is big on that pesky doctrine called separation of powers.
And you can bet your bottom dollar that if all it took to prevent the states from moving forward was one sentence buried in a draft federal rule, the Bush administration would've done it a long time ago. Given their track record, that too probably would've spawned approximately 2.1 bazillion lawsuits, a Supreme Court case, and no less than three Congressional investigations. But still.
It's fair to say that this particularly incident is emblematic of the Bush administration generally these days: of very little significance, but a cause of very significant annoyance.