House Committee Opens New Front in Fuel Economy Battle

by Marlo Lewis on July 13, 2011

in Blog, Features

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Yesterday, the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2012 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill that would block EPA from using any funds to:

  • Develop greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards for new motor vehicles and vehicle engines manufactured after the 2016 model year; and
  • Consider or grant a Clean Air Act waiver allowing the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to establish GHG emission standards for new motor vehicles and vehicle engines manufactured after the 2016 model year. 

Capital Alpha Partners, LLC, a firm providing political and policy risk analysis to institutional investors, rightly notes that the amendment, sponsored by Rep. Steve Austria (R-Ohio), could ”shift the debate over fuel economy standards and pressure the administration to soften its 56.2 mpg target floated two weeks ago.” In addition, the measure “would slice two of the three currently-involved agencies [EPA and CARB] out of the rule-making loop,” leaving fuel economy regulation to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), ”the one agency seen as ‘most reasonable’ by industry and other observers.” 

Capital Alpha reckons the measure “has a 25% chance of enactment into law this year.” If enacted as part of the one-year EPA funding bill, the measure would expire on September 30, 2012. “However,” says Capital Alpha, ”should it make it into law, opponents would be hard-pressed to strip it out in future years.” An exciting prospect for liberty-loving Americans!

As explained previously (here, here, and here), EPA is ’legislating’ climate policy under the guise of implementing the Clean Air Act (CAA), a statute enacted in 1970, years before global warming became an issue. Al Gore’s “planetary emergency” is bogus, but America’s constitutional crisis is real. Under the U.S. Constitution, only the people’s representatives get to make the big decisions concerning the content and direction of national policy. When agencies legislate, the separation of powers is breached, and the people have no one to hold accountable at the ballot box for the burdens government places upon them. 

EPA’s power grab is breathtaking. EPA is not only making climate policy through the regulatory backdoor, it has also hijacked federal fuel economy regulation by establishing GHG standards for new motor vehicles.

As explained here, here, and here, motor vehicle GHG standards are almost 95% fuel economy regulation (because 94-95% of all motor vehicle GHGs are carbon dioxide from the combustion of motor fuel, and because there is a single pool of technologies that reduces motor fuel consumption and thereby CO2 emissions as well). This means EPA can effectively tighten federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards just by tightening its GHG standards. Yet the CAA provides no authority to EPA (or any other agency) to regulate fuel economy. And although 1975 Energy Policy Conservation Act (EPCA) and 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (2007) authorize EPA to test automakers’ compliance with CAFE standards, those statutes reserve the authority to prescribe CAFE standards to NHTSA.

The auto industry supported EPA’s GHG standards, but only to escape a worse regulatory fate. EPA threatened to inflict a patchwork quilt of GHG/fuel economy standards on the U.S. auto market by granting CARB’s request for a waiver to establish GHG emission standards for new cars sold in California. A baker’s dozen other states were poised to opt into the CARB GHG/fuel economy regime. “Are you gonna come along quietly, or do we have to let the California Air Resources Board muss ya up?” That was the gist of the deal EPA offered in 2009 to obtain auto industry support for a “national” GHG/fuel economy standards program.

To run this greenhouse protection racket, however, EPA had to flout EPCA Sec. 32919, which prohibits states from adopting laws or regulations “related to” fuel economy standards. To repeat, GHG motor vehicle standards are largely fuel economy standards by another name.

Rep. Austria’s amendment would put the kibosh on further mischief of this sort during FY 2012. And, as Capital Alpha opines, if the amendment is enacted into law, “opponents would be hard-pressed to strip it out in future years.”

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