2011 Chevrolet Volt during IIHS crash testingEnlarge Photo
Politics is at best a messy and adversarial process.
Add in a presidential election and the currently polarized political mood, and anything at all done by government is usually exploited for political gain--by one side or another, often by both from different stances.
Which seems a good lens to use in assessing the news that an amendment to the energy bill passed Friday by the U.S. House of Representatives includes a clause requiring the Transportation Department to report to Congress on the impact of 54.5-mpg corporate average fuel economy rules by 2025 on jobs and auto safety.
The amendment, added to the bill by Representative Mike Kelly [R-PA], was passed 242-168.
How the gas-mileage standards will affect U.S. jobs, and what impact they will have on auto safety, are both reasonable questions--given heated political rhetoric over "job-killing regulations" and the notion that to meet mileage standards, all vehicles must get smaller.
As reported Saturday by The Detroit News, however, parts of the amendment's language could lead observers to suggest that its authors already think they know the answers.
The department is to analyze "the total number of jobs that will be lost due to decreased demand" as well as "the number of additional fatalities and injuries that will be caused by the rule."
In a statement, Kelly says, the "best interests" of U.S. drivers have been "sidelined in support of a radical environmental agenda that will require consumers to pay more for cars that are less safe."
That's known as calling the outcome before the ball clears the plate.
An analysis by the EPA and NHTSA concludes that the cost of a new vehicle may rise by $2,000 in real dollars from 2017 to 2025.
That cost, however, will be greatly outweighed by the $1.7 trillion in benefits realized by vehicle owners from reduced fuel costs--with a net projected benefit to society of $326 billion to $451 billion.
The National Association of Auto Dealers has issued dire forecasts on the effects of the new rules; one predicted 7 million buyers would be unable to afford new higher-mileage cars, and another said the new rules would cost more than $5,000 per car.
It's worth noting that Rep. Kelly is also an auto dealer--and not just any auto dealer.
During its Federally financed restructuring after bankruptcy in 2009, GM tried to close his family's Cadillac dealership, founded by his dad in 1953. GM did not succeed; the decision was later reversed in arbitration.
But Kelly was so angry at government interference in private business--though not, perhaps, quite so angry at the Federal bailout that saved GM--that he ran for Congress in 2010 and won.
His conservative credentials and that experience appear to have left Rep. Kelly quite hostile both to General Motors and to any attempts to improve the fuel efficiency of U.S. vehicles.
Toyota Prius at US Capitol, by Flickr user IzikEnlarge Photo
Last year, he attracted a lot of notice by claiming that GM is forcing its Chevrolet Volt on Chevy dealers who don't want, and can't sell, the pioneering extended-range electric car.
He claimed in Congressional fuel-economy hearings last fall that he'd fired an employee who ordered a single Volt for the dealership, against his explicit instructions.
Following that claim, Kelly then bantered with Rep. Jackie Spears [D-CA], who riposted that California dealers had six-month waiting lists for Volts (at the time) and would love to have the car he said he couldn't sell.
He neglected to point out that Chevrolet dealers actually had to apply to sell the Volt--not all Chevy dealers do so. Before it could receive a single Volt, his dealership would have had to complete a lengthy training course for salespeople, mechanics, and support staff.
Kelly also claimed his dealership had been unable to sell that single Volt. That is true; all Volt-certified GM dealers were contractually required to keep one Volt on the lot as a demonstrator (a requirement that was later waived).
As for the fate of Kelly's amendment, the Detroit News article notes that the U.S. Senate isn't likely to take up energy legislation until after the November election.
Whether the provision would survive in a reconciled bill remains unclear.