As per lots of media and online buzz over the last few days, and the latest dispatch from CNN, Congress is nearing a deal on what would essentially be a mini-energy bill that focuses on renewable fuels and on raising CAFE standards for the first time in decades. Hill Heat has been providing comprehensive coverage as details have emerged. Depending on what gets worked out regarding auto emissions, the result could theoretically range from a flawed and incomplete-- but significant-- step forward to an unworkable poison pill.
Judging from the latest reports, it seems that almost all vehicles coming out of Detroit would become subject to a fleetwide average of 35 miles-per-gallon by 2020, but there would an exemption for large "work trucks" and the maintenance of separate standards for cars and trucks. Basically, the infamous "SUV loophole," which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled is the result of an arbitrary and capricious evaluation, would remain in some reduced form, though its actual details and impact remains unclear. Sources close to the negotiations believe that the 9th Circuit's opinion will help pin down regulators from undermining the overall gains in efficiency in any significant way; we'll reserve judgment on this point until we've seen a draft of the proposed legislation.
More fundamentally troubling, and damning of the whole process even though it thankfully stands little chance of being agreed to, is the continued effort by the auto industry and Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) to preempt bolder standards by California and other states, and undermine the Supreme Court's intent in Mass. v. EPA in the process. From Greenwire (subscription only):
Meanwhile, Dingell has tried in recent days to revive the issue of which agency should be responsible for regulating vehicle greenhouse gas emissions, EPA or the Transportation Department.
Currently, DOT has the authority over vehicle fuel efficiency. But EPA is crafting regulations for tailpipe emissions, and environmentalists are also pressing for the agency to take a lead regulatory role.
Dingell is pressing for language that would take regulatory authority from EPA and leave it to DOT. Dingell has argued several times that greenhouse-gas emissions and fuel efficiency should be regulated by one agency.
But Dingell's efforts have repeatedly run into opposition from key lawmakers such as Pelosi and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) -- one of the key authors of the Senate CAFE language.
Dingell basically would place authority in the hands of an agency that the 9th Circuit just deemed blatantly and improperly biased in favor of the inudstry, as opposed to the complementary effort by NHTSA and EPA envisioned by the Supreme Court, and in the process place auto emissions in a regulatory context that could preempt California's tougher standards. The California delegation beat back Dingell's earlier, more blatant attempt to expressly preempt state leadership and quietly gut Mass v. EPA, and it's likely that this effort will be met with a similar response. Yet we're also hearing rumblings that a potential compromise might curtail the EPA's authority to promote cleaner cars without completely giving it away, and that could lead to some huge and fatal flaws. In other words, nothing's settled until the ink is dry on something concrete.
Overall, we're keeping a very close eye on this issue, and shaking our heads at the reality that we have to even do so at this point. Momentum from the state and local levels, and a winning streak in the courts, continues to build in favor of cleaner cars and bolder action overall-- thirteen states have now adopted the clean cars program Dingell is trying to undermine, and those states together compromise nearly half of the domestic auto market -- yet that's not translating into the visionary federal leadership that we so desperately need.
Don't get us wrong-- it's more likely than not that something positive will come out of these negotiations, and that's a HUGE victory against the status quo in itself. But the simple reality that the regressive agenda being promoted by the industry and its allies is still very much in the mix...well, that in itself is simply disappointing, and indicative of just how far the legislative and executive branches still have to travel before they catch up with the rest of us.