Innovation, not regulation, will improve fuel economy
By U.S. Rep Mike Rodgers
The Detroit News
June 14, 2007
American-built cars and trucks powered by renewable U.S.-made energy is not the impossible dream but a growing possibility based on automakers' innovation, not big government regulation.
Detroit is looking to the future while some in Washington, D.C., are looking to the past and a 1970s law created when families drove station wagons with carburetors and eight-track tape players. These fuel economy standards have failed us. They were supposed to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Thirty years later, U.S. consumption of foreign oil is at a record high, and American auto jobs are disappearing.
Law's record of failure
You would think a 30-year record of failure would convince more people that we need a new system. Unfortunately, a U.S. Senate proposal to raise fuel economy standards 40 percent in 10 years is nothing more than a sequel promising gasoline savings but remaining silent on how American automakers can achieve a fuel-efficient and environmentally clean future.
House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell and other members of the Michigan delegation are working to write a bill focusing on the future, but the only reform House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and many other members of the U.S. House seem committed to is whether California or Washington bureaucrats decide which cars get built.
There is a better way. The Big Three automakers are taking risks and leading the way by investing in research and development of flex-fuel vehicles, biodiesel, lithium ion batteries, gasoline-electric hybrids and other new technologies. They are spending billions and doing it without government mandates.
General Motors is making progress with a lithium battery-powered vehicle, the Chevy Volt. Ford continues work on hybrid technology, and Chrysler is a leader in clean-diesel and biodiesel technology.
While the Japanese have used huge cash reserves to try to corner research and development of lithium batteries, U.S. automakers are rapidly positioning themselves to develop battery technology for cars like the Volt and other future vehicles.
The good news for Michigan is our automotive experience and skill can be turned into new jobs for a revitalized auto industry. Michigan does more automotive research than the other 49 states combined, making our state the most logical place in the world for alternative fuel research, development and production.
But new fuel economy standards that do not account for future technology will choke off alternative fuels research and seriously damage Michigan's economy.
That is why I am aggressively pursuing strong, fair and equal fuel economy standards on all vehicles while still empowering our auto engineers, designers and workers to make alternative fuel cars and trucks.
Step one is making existing alternative fuels available to consumers. I drive a flex-fuel car and live near a station selling E85, but millions of American driving flex-fuel cars don't. My legislation would help small, independent stations install E85 pumps and other alternative fuel infrastructure.
Step two involves reforming the federal system so Michigan's automakers are not punished for making cars Americans want to buy and drive. The federal system should measure fuel efficiency as a function of each type of car instead of as an average for the entire company.
Reform federal rules
We would never tolerate a system where an automaker could put eight seatbelts in one car, none in another and declare both cars safe because they "average" four seatbelts per car. Yet this is exactly what fuel economy rules do by rewarding companies that make small cars with credits they can use to turn around and make bigger cars.
The new system would allow the auto industry the opportunity to market products they make while also making every vehicle sold in the U.S. more fuel-efficient and cleaner.
Step three would dramatically reduce gasoline consumption by creating a loan guarantee program to spur development and production of alternative fuel vehicles like GM's Volt. We could unleash the creativity of our automotive engineers, designers and workers to create a new world where clean cars run for hundreds of miles without using gasoline.
Just like the challenges of the past, Michigan and our nation can seize an opportunity to change and make the planet a better place. We can do it the old-fashioned way, through innovation, not regulation.
U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee.