fuel economy

Post image for Gina McCarthy’s Responses to Sen. Vitter’s Questions Part II: Fuel Economy*

Gina McCarthy — President Obama’s nominee to succeed Lisa Jackson as EPA Administrator — is often described as “straight shooter” and “honest broker.” Is that reputation deserved?

Last week, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) released a 123 page document containing McCarthy’s responses to hundreds of questions on a wide range of issues. Part 1 of this series examined McCarthy’s responses to Vitter’s questions about the agency’s regulation of greenhouse gases from stationary sources. The key points were:

  1. McCarthy and the Air Office over which she presides gave Congress and the electric power sector false assurances that the EPA would not require utilities planning to build new coal-fired power plants to “fuel switch” and build natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants instead.
  2. Such misinformation undercut the credibility of critics who warned that the EPA, if left to its own devices, would use greenhouse gas regulation to prohibit the construction of new coal electric generation.
  3. The EPA’s dissembling on fuel switching may have swayed votes against measures sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in 2010 and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) in 2011 to reclaim Congress’s authority to determine climate policy.

Agencies are not supposed to provide false or misleading information to influence how Members of Congress vote. Banning new coal generation — the inexorable effect of the EPA’s ‘Carbon Pollution’ Rule — is a policy Congress would reject if proposed as legislation.

Part 1 concluded that confirming McCarthy as Administrator would reward the EPA’s duplicitous pursuit of an agenda Congress has not authorized. Breaking news of the EPA’s grossly unequal treatment of groups seeking information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) — based on whether the groups support or oppose a bigger, more intrusive EPA — leaves no doubt that this out-of-control agency deserves a kick in the butt, not a pat on the back.

Even the Society of Environmental Journalists — hardly a hotbed of libertarians, conservative Republicans, or fossil-fuel industry lobbyists — recently complained that the Obama administration “has been anything but transparent in its dealings with reporters seeking information, interviews and clarification” on environmental, health, and public lands issues, and that, “The EPA is one of the most closed, opaque agencies to the press.”

Today’s post examines McCarthy’s responses to Vitter’s questions about the administration’s motor vehicle mandates. As in Part 1, I begin with an overview of the issues and political back story. For more detailed analyses, see the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee report, A Dismissal of Safety, Choice, and Cost: The Obama Administration’s New Auto Regulations, and my article, EPA Regulation of Fuel Economy: Congressional Intent or Climate Coup? [click to continue…]

Post image for Gina McCarthy’s Responses to Sen. Vitter’s Questions Part I: Bait-and-Fuel-Switch*

Gina McCarthy — President Obama’s pick to succeed Lisa Jackson as EPA Administrator — is often described as a “straight shooter” and “honest broker.” As my colleague Anthony Ward and I explain in Forbes, McCarthy has a history of misleading Congress about the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulatory agenda.

Specifically, McCarthy and the Air Office over which she presides gave Congress and the electric power sector false assurances that the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations would not require utilities planning to build new coal-fired power plants to “fuel switch” to natural gas. McCarthy also denied under oath that greenhouse gas motor vehicle standards are “related to” fuel economy standards, even though anyone with her expertise must know that the former implicitly and substantially regulate fuel economy.

McCarthy and the Air Office’s misleading statements about fuel switching discredited critics who claimed the EPA was waging a war on coal and would, if left to its own devices, ban new coal generation. The fiction that greenhouse gas emission standards are unrelated to fuel economy standards gave the EPA legal cover to gin up a regulatory nightmare for auto makers — the prospect of a market-balkanizing, state-by-state, fuel-economy “patchwork” — just so the White House, in hush-hush negotiations, could demand auto industry support for the administration’s motor vehicle mandates as the price for averting the dreaded patchwork. This is a complicated tale, which I will discuss in Part 2 of this series.

The bottom line is that if the EPA had not dissembled on fuel switching and not obfuscated on fuel economy, more Senators might have voted for legislative measures, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in 2010 and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) in 2011, to rein in the agency. In addition to their well-publicized transparency concerns about the EPA under the leadership of Lisa Jackson and Gina McCarthy, Senators should also have separation of powers concerns.

Earlier this week, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, released a 123 page document containing McCarthy’s responses to hundreds of questions on a wide range of issues. In today’s post, I comment on McCarthy’s responses to Sen. Vitter’s questions about fuel switching. In Part 2 of this series, I will comment on McCarthy’s responses regarding the administration’s motor vehicle program. [click to continue…]

Post image for Inside the Sausage Factory: The Obama Administration’s Auto Regulations

Earlier this month, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee issued a staff report on the Obama Administration’s fuel economy/greenhouse gas (GHG) regulatory program. The report, A Dismissal of Safety, Choice, and Cost, is the product of a “multi-year Committee investigation” that includes three hearings, a transcribed interview of EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy, and a review of more than 15,000 documents obtained by the Committee from the EPA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the California Air Resources Board (CARB), and 15 automobile manufacturers.

Some key findings:

  • The Administration performed an end-run around the law and ran a White House-based political negotiation, led by “czars” who marginalized NHTSA, the federal agency charged in statute with setting fuel economy standards.
  • Contrary to the statutory scheme Congress created, the EPA became the lead agency in fuel economy regulation and NHTSA was sidelined. Contrary to Congress’s preemption of State laws or regulations “related to” fuel economy, CARB became a “major player” and an “aggressive participant in the process,” allowing unelected state regulators in Sacramento to set national policy outside the federal rulemaking process.
  • The Administration violated the spirit – and possibly the letter – of the Administrative Procedure Act, Presidential Records Act, and Federal Advisory Committee Act by negotiating agreements on both the Model Year (MY) 2012-2016 and MY 2017-2025 standards behind closed doors with only a select group of stakeholders.
  • The new fuel-economy/GHG standards will add thousands of dollars to the cost of new vehicles. Consumers are likely to incur net financial losses unless annual gasoline prices reach $5-$6 per gallon.
  • Compliance with the new standards will require mass reductions that will, in turn, compromise vehicle safety. EPA and CARB officials mocked and belittled safety concerns raised by NHTSA.

In a law journal article and regulatory comment letter, I also make the case that the administration’s fuel-economy agenda trashes the separation of powers and administrative procedures. But the Committee’s report provides the first, detailed behind-the-scenes chronology of Team Obama’s fuel economy machinations, confirming what other critics suspected but could not document.

Some secrets of the sausage factory, though, may never come to light: “Despite multiple requests, the Executive Office of the President refused to provide any information on its involvement in developing the fuel economy and GHG emissions standards.”

[click to continue…]

Update on Chevy Volt Hearing

by Marlo Lewis on February 2, 2012

Post image for Update on Chevy Volt Hearing

As noted here last week, the sparks flew at a Jan. 25 House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing titled “The Volt Fire: What Did NHTSA Know and When Did They Know It?” Three witnesses testified: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Administrator David Strickland, General Motors (GM) CEO Daniel Akerson, and John German of the International Council on Clean Transportation. My earlier post was based on newspaper accounts of the hearing. Over the weekend, I watched the archived video of the proceeding and read the testimonies and Committee Staff Report. Here are the key facts and conclusions as I see them:

  • The Volt battery fire occurred on June 2, 2011 in the parking lot of a Wisconsin crash test facility. The car caught fire three weeks after the vehicle had been totaled, on May 12, in a side-pole collision. The fire caused an explosion that destroyed not only the Volt but three other vehicles. The blast hurled one of the Volt’s components (a strut) a distance of nearly 80 feet.
  • The fire was caused by the leaking of coolant into the Volt’s powerful 300-volt battery, which had been punctured by the crash.
  • NHTSA could have avoided the fire had it run down (“drained,” “depowered,” “discharged”) the battery after the crash. This raises obvious questions: Was NHTSA responsible for the fire? Was the agency’s six-month silence partly an attempt to hide regulatory incompetence?
  • The Volt is a safe car; consumers should not fear to drive it. Gasoline-powered vehicles are more likely than battery-powered vehicles to burn after a crash. The post-crash explosion from a damaged gas tank can occur in seconds as opposed to weeks. Electric vehicle batteries are harder to puncture than gas tanks. NHTSA tried and failed to replicate the fire by crashing other Volt test vehicles. To induce another battery fire, NHTSA had to impale the battery with a steel rod and rotate it in coolant with special laboratory equipment.
  • GM is retrofitting Volt batteries to make them stronger and more leak proof, and is updating safety protocols to ensure batteries are depowered after crashes.
  • NHTSA kept silent about the fire for six months, acknowledging it only after Bloomberg News broke the story on November 11, 2011.
  • GOP Committee members produced no smoking gun evidence of collusion to cover up the Volt battery fire, such as an email saying ‘We’ve got to keep this under wraps or it will depress Volt sales, jeopardize EPA’s fuel economy negotiations with automakers, and make President Obama look bad.’
  • Nonetheless, the Obama administration’s heavy investment (financial and political) in GM in general and the Volt in particular creates an undeniable conflict of interest.
  • NHTSA determined the cause of the fire in August 2011, yet waited until November 25 to advise emergency responders, salvage yard managers, and Volt owners how to avoid, and reduce the safety risks associated with, post-crash fires.
  • Administrator Strickland’s protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, it is difficult to explain the agency’s secretiveness apart from political considerations that should not influence NHTSA’s regulatory deliberations.

[click to continue…]

Post image for Each Chevy Volt Sold Costs Taxpayers Up to $250K, Mackinac Analyst Estimates

James Hohman of Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy estimates that state and federal incentives for GM’s plug-in hybrid vehicle, the Chevy Volt, total $3 billion. That works out to between $50,000 and $250,000 in taxpayer support for each of 6,000 Volts sold so far, “depending on how many of the subsidy milestones are realized.”

The per vehicle subsidy cost is bound to decrease as more Volts are sold and as current subsidies expire.

Nonetheless, as GM acknowledges, the typical Volt purchaser earns $170,000 a year, so it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Volt program is a reverse-Robin Hood wealth tranfer from middle-income households to GM, other big corporations, and high-income auto buyers.

Hohman’s analysis appears below in full. [click to continue…]

Post image for Issa Challenges Legality of California Greenhouse Gas Emission Standards

I keep coming back to this topic because fuel economy zealots are trashing our constitutional system of separated powers and democratic accountability. Only Congress can make them stop. Leading the counter-offensive is House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who has been watch-dogging the Obama administration’s fuel economy agenda since 2009. [click to continue…]

Post image for EPA/DOT Admit — No, Boast — New Fuel Economy Standards Bypass Congress

Federal agencies are not supposed to be overtly partisan. They are also not supposed to legislate. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood apparently didn’t get the memo. Or maybe they just don’t give a darn.

In a press release announcing their plan to raise fuel economy standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, the agency heads boast: “Today’s announcement is the latest in a series of executive actions the Obama Administration is taking to strengthen the economy and move the country forward because we can’t wait for Congressional Republicans to act” [emphasis added]. Jackson and LaHood even title their press release, “We Can’t Wait.”

‘What do we want? Energy independence! When do we want it? Now!’ Even if that means trashing the separation of powers, the essential constitutional foundation for accountable government.

[click to continue…]

Post image for Auto Dealers Rebut “Concerned” Scientists

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and seven other green groups sent the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) a letter (dated October 19) criticizing NADA’s opposition to President Obama’s plan to increase new-car fuel economy standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by Model Year (MY) 2025.

The UCS letter parrots the administration’s claims about the many wonderful benefits more stringent fuel economy standards will achieve during MYs 2017-2025. In a letter dated November 2, NADA points out that the claimed benefits depend on assumptions, such as future gasoline prices and, most importantly, whether consumers will want to buy the cars auto makers are forced to produce.

The UCS letter neglects to mention that, according to the administration’s own estimates, the MY 2025 standard would add at least $3,100 to the average cost of a new vehicle. NADA also notes other likely consumer impacts:

  • Vehicles that currently cost $15,000 and less effectively regulated out of existence.
  • Weight reductions of 15%-25%, with potential adverse effects on vehicle safety in collisions.
  • 25% to 66% of the fleet required to be hybrid or electric, even though hybrids today account for only 2-3% of new vehicle sales.

The “concerned” scientists also completely ignore NADA’s critique of the legal basis of Obama’s fuel economy agenda. [click to continue…]

Post image for Did Obama EPA/DOT Officials Lie to Congress?

Earlier this week, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) sent letters to three Obama administration officials regarding the veracity of their testimonies at an October 12 subcommittee hearing on the administration’s fuel economy policies.*

Issa’s letters — to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Administrator David Strickland, EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Gina McCarthy, and EPA Director of Transportation and Air Quality Margo Oge — are identical in content.

The gist of the letters is that each administration witness denied under oath that EPA and California’s greenhouse gas emission standards are “related to” fuel economy standards, whereas in fact, according to Issa, “regulating greenhouse gases and regulating fuel economy is a distinction without a difference.”

This matters for three inter-related reasons: (1) EPA is currently regulating fuel economy by setting motor vehicle greenhouse gas emission standards even though the Clean Air Act provides no authority for fuel economy regulation; (2) EPA in June 2009 granted California a waiver to establish motor vehicle greenhouse gas emission standards despite the Energy Policy Conservation Act’s (EPCA’s) express prohibition (U.S.C. 49 § 32919) of state laws or regulations “related to” fuel economy; and (3) the California waiver, by threatening to create a market-balkanizing “regulatory patchwork,” enabled the Obama administration to extort the auto industry’s support for EPA’s new career as greenhouse gas/fuel economy regulator in return for California and other states’ agreement to deem compliance with EPA’s greenhouse gas/fuel economy standards as compliance with their own.

As I will demonstrate below, greenhouse gas emission standards are highly “related to” fuel economy standards, and the administration witnesses cannot possibly be ignorant of the relationship. Do their denials of plain fact rise to the level of perjury? [click to continue…]

Post image for Costco Pulls Plug on Electric Vehicle Chargers

Costco is removing its electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, citing lack of consumer demand, reports Jim Motavalli in the New York Times. Plug-In America, an EV advocacy group, has issued an “action alert” urging its members to email Costco CEO James Sinegal and ask him to maintain and upgrade the charging stations.  From Montavalli’s article:

Costco, the membership warehouse-club chain, was an early leader in offering electric-vehicle charging to its customers, setting an example followed by other retailers, including Best Buy and Walgreen. By 2006, Costco had installed 90 chargers at 64 stores, mostly in California but also some in Arizona, New York and Georgia. Even after General Motors crushed its EV1 battery cars, the Costco chargers stayed in place.

Yet just as plug-in cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt enter the market, Costco is reversing course and pulling its chargers out of the ground, explaining that customers do not use them.

“We were early supporters of electric cars, going back as far as 15 years. But nobody ever uses them,” said Dennis Hoover, the general manager for Costco in northern California, in a telephone interview. “At our Folsom store, the manager said he hadn’t seen anybody using the E.V. charging in a full year. At our store in Vacaville, where we had six chargers, one person plugged in once a week.”

Mr. Hoover said that E.V. charging was “very inefficient and not productive” for the retailer. “The bottom line is that there are a lot of other ways to be green,” he said. “We have five million members in the region, and just a handful of people are using these devices.

Why is consumer demand for EVs — hence for charging stations — so low? [click to continue…]