Another Show-Down Lost by Congress

I have to say that for a long time I defended this Congress and its seeming lack of accomplishments. I felt like they had accomplished some important legislation but failed to properly publicize their work. Plus, there is a political perfect storm in Washington, between a veto-happy President who is not up for re-election, a narrowly divided Congress, and a very politically diverse majority party. However, Congress' complete failure in raising fuel economy standards has me utterly frustrated.

The current fuel economy standards are identical to those of 1978. They are older than I am. In spite of technological innovations and improvements, not only do we have the same internal combustion engine of the early 1900's, but we also have the same fuel efficiency standards of the disco-era. There is a dual reason for the lack of courage by former and current politicians to make changes to this standard...1) Oil Special Interests, 2) Automobile Special Interests.

In the face of very serious public demand for low-impact automobiles these two groups have been hugely successful in slowing innovation down to a complete halt. Every election cycle, politicians espouse the need to break our reliance on foreign oil and to build a manufacturing sector that would create new jobs while leading the world in energy technology. But once the campaigns are over, these same politicians march to the tune of the special interest pied piper.

A perfect example of this cowardly approach to legislating is the soon-to-be-passed CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) reform bill. This bill was initially designed to set a path to innovation for the United States by setting a strict fuel efficiency standard that must be met by 2020. Every automobile would have had to get at least 35 miles per gallon by that date. The idea was, if automobile companies were forced to make trucks more fuel efficient, they would just create a new technology that would far surpass the 2020 goal and everyone would benefit.

But once again, politicians caved to the special interests and created enough loop holes in the CAFE Reform Bill that the carrot-stick scenario is gone. There are no more incentives for automobile companies to innovate.

For instance, "work trucks" like the Dodge Ram and Ford F-150 will be exempt from the new fuel standards. My father drives an F-150, and not for construction purposes. In addition, if an automaker builds a car that will burn either gasoline or ethanol (a flex-fuel car) then they can avoid the new standards. Do you know where you can get ethanol? I don't. In fact, only about 1.5% of those who own flex-fuel automobiles actually fill them with ethanol. The jury is still out on whether ethanol is any better for the air then gasoline.

The saddest part of this whole debacle is the fact that politicians pretend this new reform is actually good news. They create media opportunities where they can brag about how good this is for the health of our environment and how it will stave off global warming. Folks, it isn't going to mean a thing to anyone.

I guess Congress is finally accepting the fact that it hasn't accomplished anything over the past year. They are pushing through watered-down legislation just to have the opportunity to brag about something. Unfortunately, they are doing so at the cost of our environment and our economy. Read more here.

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