Nov. 2, 2007

Cheney Meetings With Auto Executives On Fuel Economy Spell Trouble

Statement of Robert Shull, Deputy Director of Auto Safety and Regulatory Policy at Public Citizen

The news that Vice President Dick Cheney has held more backdoor meetings with the auto industry to discuss energy policy is bad news for everyone. According to today’s Detroit News, Cheney met recently with the CEOs of Chrysler and Ford to discuss mounting pressure on Capitol Hill for energy legislation to address fuel economy.

You might have heard about this legislation, which passed the Senate this summer. Its backers erroneously claim that it will raise fuel economy for the combined car and truck fleets to 35 miles per gallon in 13 years. If it’s on the fast track to passing in the Senate, why does it matter that Cheney met with the CEOs? What could he do about it?

Plenty. The language that the Senate passed does not, in fact, raise fuel economy to 35 miles per gallon.   Instead, it sets a toothless target of 35 mpg, with a Hummer-sized loophole: The administration would have the power to set increases well below 35 mpg – or no increases at all – provided only that it manufactures a cost-benefit analysis to justify its decision. Cost-benefit analysis is a funny money game, created by industry for industry to make sure that the regulatory process is biased in its favor. Even if the legislation is out of Cheney’s hands, the implementation is not, and the White House will have a large say in how that analysis turns out.

The legislation also would require the administration to dump the proven Corporate Average Fuel Economy program in favor of a complex mess that sets fuel economy standards based on the size of the vehicle. And guess who was the mastermind of that bright idea? As detailed in our report, “Slip Sliding Away: The Cheney Sliding Scale for Fuel Economy,” it was cooked up in backroom meetings led by senior White House officials and the staff of none other than Dick Cheney. Further, the sliding scale approach to setting fuel economy policy gives the administration more opportunity to change the rules of the game to favor industry at the expense of consumers and sensible energy policy.

So while Congress is being praised for demanding higher fuel economy, in reality it is poised to hand the Bush administration the power to deny us the tough fuel economy standards our nation needs. We have no doubt that the auto executives and Cheney are planning to use that power in ways that all of us will come to regret.

It’s long past time for the Bush administration to stop playing games with consumers and the environment and start putting us on a path to cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

###