In a move that will come as a surprise to virtually no one, the auto industry has today collectively said that they will fight the EPA if they do, in fact, green-light California’s much stricter vehicle emissions controls. During the term of former President Bush, a coalition formed by California and 13 other states in the US who proposed that they should be allowed to mandate their own stricter emissions controls was shut down and turned away at the gate. Now, with a new President in office, environmentalists anxiously awaiting the change they were promised didn’t have long to wait. On Monday the 26th, less than one week after his inauguration, President Obama signed a memorandum that told the EPA to reconsider California and those 13 other states’ proposal. It’s taken exactly two days for NADA to talk about how they’re going to fight back.
That’s the news bit. If you’re wondering about the editorial bit of this story, follow the jump.
Back in 2007, transportation policy experts at two University of California branches were asked to assist in drafting the initial proposal that would introduce sweeping change in emissions regulations in California. The even more interesting part of that article, though, was the line “The European Union is expected to follow California’s lead later this year.”
While that didn’t happen, Euro 6 regulations were passed less than two weeks ago. Although they won’t blossom into fruitful, lowest-emissions-ever butterflies until 2014, they’re still poised to bring about a great deal of positive change. So why is NADA so adamant about fighting it in the US that the US Chamber of Commerce cited a “100% chance” that a formal court challenge would be issued if the EPA goes through with approving the coalition’s proposals?
National Association of Manufacturers’ VP of Communications Hank Cox said, “We are concerned that if states take off on their own then the economy will be Balkanized into regulatory fiefdoms.” NADA spokesman Bailey Wood spoke of worries that California’s draft in particular might contain loopholes which might let some higher-emissions vehicles through and favour certain manufacturers—something which already appears to be happening in Germany’s emissions battle.
One of the EU’s plans to combat climate change through stricter vehicle emissions standards has been to encourage member countries to impose taxes based on vehicle emissions, a strategy which Germany has just recently adopted. However, critics of the policy (including Chancellor Angela Markel) have said that while the taxes are lower for lower emissions vehicles under these new regulations, extremely environmentally offensive vehicles such as the Audi Q7 somehow seem to see virtually no change in their taxes.
Meanwhile, in the US, the NAM’s Hank Cox argues that “The car industry is on the ropes right now. This would be economic folly of the first order.” No, Mr. Cox, with all due respect, Chrysler underwriting the new Terminator film directly after begging for taxpayer dollars from the US government is “economic folly of the first order.”
There’s no denying that the first part of what Mr. Cox said is true: the car industry is, indeed, on the ropes. Not just in the US (although it’s particularly bad there), but globally. And while the underlying problems do reach far outside the industry as well, I believe there’s also no denying that part of the reason they’re in this mess has been their reluctance to change and adapt as times, needs, and consumer demands have called for.
Maybe it’s time for the auto industry to heed the advice of Tyler Durden: “It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you are free to do anything.” The best way forward out of this mess is to innovate, not to stagnate, and it absolutely makes me froth at the mouth with anger when people cower and are fearful in the face of mounting evidence that what they’re proposing as the way forward is actually what helped to get them into this mess in the first place. At least the German Chancellor’s argument is a valid criticism. But simply to say “we’re too beat up already to think about the future, sorry, it’s business as usual” would be even greater folly than underwriting the next Terminator, Transformers, and Fast and the Furious film franchise entries combined.
If the terms of this draft in particular aren’t right, and if there are improper loopholes, they should be dealt with. But a complete shutdown of communications will get no one anywhere, and frankly, we’re much less funny when we’re angry. And no one wants that.