Obama’s pick for EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, is being praised for her role in developing the Obama administration’s fuel economy standards. Roll Call reports that McCarthy “oversaw… stricter fuel economy standards for cars and trucks.” NPR says “she played a key role in doubling automotive fuel-economy standards.” But when McCarthy herself was asked about the rules in a congressional oversight hearing, she said: “We do not regulate fuel economy.” Why?
She said it, even though everyone knows it isn’t true, because the rules depended on the fundamental deception that the EPA and their California counterparts can regulate “tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions” from cars and trucks without regulating fuel economy. This convenient fiction allowed them to use a shakedown tactic – the threat of state fuel economy standards – that was explicitly prohibited by law.
The deal was your classic bad cop/worse cop routine in a secret backroom where, according to California regulator Mary Nichols, “We put nothing in writing, ever.” The EPA granted a waiver to California to set its own fuel economy standards, then sat down with automakers and said if they didn’t submit to the EPA’s demands, California would do far worse, crippling the industry in one of their biggest markets and setting a new precedent for balkanized fuel economy standards.
This is despite the fact that Congress had pre-empted state regulation to prevent such mischief. It’s in 49 U.S.C. § 32919: “When an average fuel economy standard prescribed under this chapter is in effect, a State or a political subdivision of a State may not adopt or enforce a law or regulation related to fuel economy standards.”
How could California be used as a cudgel when they were legally pre-empted from adopting any law or regulation even “related to” fuel economy? Simple. Deny that regulating greenhouse gases has any relation to fuel economy, even though it actually does nothing but set fuel economy standards. In a word: lie.
As a result, the price of the least expensive new cars will increase by thousands of dollars, and many Americans (6.8 million according to an analysis by the National Automobile Dealers Association) will no longer be able to afford new cars at all. So they won’t enjoy any savings on fuel costs and will be stuck driving less environmentally-friendly used cars.
Whether you like the car rules or not, the danger now is that by endorsing McCarthy’s dishonest actions by promoting her to the top job at the EPA, the Senate will be tacitly approving the legally dubious, coercive, secretive nature of the auto deal as a template for regulating greenhouse gases in other sectors of the economy, including shutting down existing coal plants and making electricity prices necessarily skyrocket.
McCarthy’s central role in rewriting fuel economy standards via deception should disqualify her from promotion to EPA administrator.