Ready to pay $7,400 more to refuel your car over its lifetime? According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), that’s what could happen if a bill that’s already passed an important House committee becomes law.
The bill, from Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) targets the EPA, and most of the coverage has focused on its attempt to stop the agency from setting greenhouse gas standards. But it’s more sweeping than that, and would block the agency’s much heralded and widely supported effort to set unified fuel economy rules for the auto industry in 2017 to 2025. It upsets California’s ability to set fuel economy standards, too.
The bill has easy sailing in the House, where it’s likely to pass with the help of the Republican majority. Much harder will be getting it through the Senate and a threatened Obama veto.
Of course, Upton claims that his bill will save consumers money, because the EPA’s regulations -- which crank cars up to 35.5 mpg by 2015 -- lead to higher gas prices. It’s unclear how. “It’s opposite day on the science,” said Brendan Bell, senior Washington representative in the UCS vehicles program. “The ideology on the right that says that climate science doesn’t exist, that says the Clean Air Act can’t regulate greenhouse gases, causes them to put out legislation that actually hurts America. It’s the triumph of ideology over reality.”
UCS predicts that Upton’s bill, far from helping beleaguered consumers, would increase our foreign oil dependence by as much as 2.4 million barrels per day by 2030, when we’d be paying $100 billion more for gasoline than we do now.
Both Ford and Toyota sent letters to the House committee that just passed Upton’s bill expressing concern both about the 2017-2025 standards, and about California’s separate effort to create state rules. They don’t come out and support Upton’s bill, but they seem increasingly sympathetic.
"They see an opportunity,” said Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign at the Center for Auto Safety. “When the original standards passed, Congress was Democratic and they didn’t see any alternative. But now that the Republicans have taken over the House, they think they might be able to defeat the process.”
Needless to say, Upton has a different take about what his bill will do. He says it’s the EPA regs “that will send jobs overseas and increase gasoline and energy prices.” He’s striking a blow against “a runaway federal government and restoring the principles of free enterprise and personal liberty.”
Nonsense, said Becker. Actually, he said something stronger than that, but this is a family website. “At a time when the Middle East is erupting, and gas prices are going through the roof, this Republican bill would go back to the ‘better bankruptcy than clean cars’ approach that Detroit used to have. It’s the return of the Flat Earth Society.”
OK, Dan, OK. Easy, boy, it’s probably not gonna pass. But if it were up to our duly elected House of Representatives, it would probably already be law. But current political realities make that unlikely.
Upton is now chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and he's used that pulpit to push quixotic legislation (including the repeal of Obamacare) that isn't likely to reach homeplate. This former moderate, with the Tea Party uppermost in his mind, is now throwing bones to red-meat conservatives. Upton is also a Congressman from Michigan, and that means carrying water for automakers. But it's certainly debatable if this bill is actually in their interests.
Upton had to "tilt hard to the right" to get re-elected, says Politico, and this video explains how the energy/climate politics play out in Washington today with him at the helm: