Michigan Legislators Protest New Fuel Rules

Published August 29, 2011

Fourteen Michigan members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the state’s two U.S. senators have sent a letter to President Obama opposing his new fuel efficiency standards for vehicles manufactured between 2017 and 2025. Several signers of the four-page letter are Democrats. Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat, was the only Michigan congressman not to sign the letter.

“With the Michigan unemployment rate standing at 10.5 percent, we are unanimous in our concern about the consequences of an excessive proposal,” said the letter. “We urge the Administration to sit down promptly and at one time with all three domestic auto manufacturers and the United Auto Workers to work through an acceptable solution to these issues.”

New Restrictions Not Feasible

Obama’s standards would require automobile manufacturers to average at least 56.2 miles per gallon on fleetwide auto sales by 2025. Those would come on the heels of a May 2009 agreement among administration officials and auto industry executives to voluntarily increase fuel efficiency by 40 percent by 2016, which translates to 34 miles per gallon.

“We are deeply concerned that the Administration’s starting proposal of a five percent annual increase for cars and light trucks— to reach a goal of 56.2 miles per gallon in 2025—is overly aggressive and not reasonably feasible,” the letter from Michigan’s legislators continued. “Such a proposal would push beyond the limits of reasonably feasible technology development and would have significant negative ramifications for U.S. jobs and competitiveness.”

The letter writers also expressed concern with final rules that won’t be released until the end of September but could add even more regulation and costs for vehicles manufactured between 2022 and 2025. The legislators asked for clarity in the regulatory process and a standard that takes into consideration existing technology.

Laws vs. Reality

At least one industry analyst believes the standards won’t stand.

“I’m predicting they won’t stand, because they’re going to drive up the price of cars so much,” said Russ Harding, a senior environmental policy analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the former director of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality. “It’s a complex standard, and it goes by vehicle, by class.… But even after you study it all, … it’s still [a mile-per-hour] standard that’s way, way higher than ever before in history.”

Consumers will not be able to afford a vehicle sticker price increase of $6,000 or $7,000 that would result from the new restrictions, Harding said. The only alternative to higher vehicle prices would be manufacturers no longer offering full-size cars. which Americans will not tolerate, said Harding.  

“My prediction—and you’ve already seen this in California where they tried twice to mandate a certain percentage of electric vehicles must be sold—is these [rules] won’t last,” Harding said. “The government and politicians think they can mandate whatever they want, but the laws of economics and the laws of physics are still there. This standard won’t stand, or if it does, it will be riddled with loopholes and opt-out [clauses].”

Cheryl Chumley, [email protected], writes from northern Virginia.