Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Mistakes Buck-Passing for Courage

by William Yeatman on June 20, 2011

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In a Saturday editorial, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette praised new GM CEO Dan Akerson for his “audacious” support of a gas tax. Wrote the editorial board,

Perhaps because Mr. Akerson comes from outside the sometimes insular Detroit auto culture, he can see more clearly that the domestic industry’s old ways won’t work any longer. One of the cardinal principles of both business and evolution is: Adapt or die.

Two years ago, the nation saved GM. The audacious idea from the company’s new chief might help return the favor.

This is malarkey. Mr. Akerson’s “audacious” effort to “adapt or die” is in fact only the latest toss in a long running game of hot potato between the oil industry and the auto industry. Here’s how it works: The auto industry tries to avoid more stringent federal fuel efficiency standards by pushing for a gas tax, while the oil industry tries to avoid a gas tax by pushing for more stringent federal fuel efficiency standards.

Thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency’s misguided decision to regulate greenhouse gases, federal fuel efficiency standards for automobiles are now at the whim of California politicians, who are trying to impose a 62 mile per gallon standard. (To understand how the Obama administration ceded authority on automotive fuel efficiency regulation to the Golden State, see this study by my colleague Marlo Lewis.) U.S. automakers, even the ones that are supplicants of the current administration due to the bailout, know that a 62 mile per gallon standard would wreck their industry. That’s why Mr. Akerson is pushing for a gas tax. It has nothing to do with courage. Rather, he’s passing the buck.

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