Tag: Congress

By on September 30, 2011

The Detroit News reports that the only Republican in Washington with subpoena power, Rep Darrel Issa has written a letter asking Ford CEO Alan Mulally for “a full and complete explanation of Ford’s decision” to stop running an advertisement that was critical of the TARP-funded auto bailout.

In a letter, Issa asks Ford if any White House, Treasury or other federal employee discussed the ad with any Ford employee “at any time via any manner of communication” and asks the automaker to turn over any documents connected to any discussion by Oct. 12.

Spokeswoman Meghan Keck said Ford will cooperate, but reiterated that the White House didn’t pressure the Dearborn automaker.

Ford took the ad off of Youtube after “individuals inside the White House questioned whether the copy was publicly denigrating the controversial bailout policy CEO Alan Mulally repeatedly supported in the dark days of late 2008,” according to Daniel Howes of the Detroit News. The same day Ford restored the video, and denied that White House pressure led to the takedown. Color us curious as to how Mulally is going to explain this little episode…

UPDATE: The Washington Post’s Plum Line reports

I just got off the phone with Detroit News managing editor Don Nauss. “We stand by our column,” he told me. “It was based on multiple sources. It’s written by a busines columnist who can draw conclusions based on the reporting that they do.”

The story contains no attribution for the central charge of White House calls to Ford. Asked about this, Nauss declined to comment.

Asked to clarify if the column was alleging any White House pressure on Ford (the story hints at it up top but quotes someone later saying there was no pressure), Nauss declined to say. “The story speaks for itself,” he said.

When contacted about his column, Howes referred me to Nauss’s comments above.

 

 

By on September 25, 2011

Editor’s note: When I wrote about OnStar’s latest round of privacy concerns, I didn’t realize that the chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law had voiced his own concerns in a letter published just the day before. Here is the letter, as published at Senator Franken’s website. OnStar has already said it will respond to specifically to the concerns of Senators Franken and Coons.

Ms. Linda Marshall, President
OnStar Corporation
400 Renaissance Center
Detroit, MI 48265

Dear Ms. Marshall:

We are writing to express our serious concern with OnStar’s announcement earlier this week that it would continue to track the GPS locations of its customers’ vehicles even if those customers have affirmatively ended their contractual plans with OnStar.  In this email announcement, OnStar informs its current and former subscribers that it reserves the right to track their locations “for any purpose, at any time.”  It appears that the only way to stop this tracking is to actually call OnStar and request that the data connection between OnStar and the vehicle be terminated; this service is not available online.  OnStar further reserves the right to share or sell location data with “credit card processors,” “data management companies,” OnStar’s “affiliates,” or “any third party” provided that OnStar is satisfied that the data cannot be traced back to individual customers.  See OnStar, Privacy Statement: Effective as of December 2011.  In a nutshell, OnStar is telling its current and former customers that it can track their location anywhere, anytime—even if they cancel their subscriptions—and then give or sell that information to anyone as long as OnStar deems it safe to do so.

(Read More…)

By on August 1, 2011

With the high political drama surrounding America’s debt ceiling crisis, last Friday’s CAFE announcement received much less attention from the media than it might have. But, flying even further beneath the radar is an attempt by Republicans to undo the fuel economy agreement that was the result of long negotiations. According to the NYT, some 39 “anti environmental” riders were attached to an Interior Department and EPA appropriations bill, including one which reads

Sec. 453. None of the funds made available under this Act shall be used— (1) to prepare, propose, promulgate, finalize, implement, or enforce any regulation pursuant to section 202 of the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7521) regarding the regulation of any greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines that are manufactured after model year 2016 to address climate change.

Though one rider, which would have prevented any new listings on the Endangered Species Act lists of threatened and endangered species, was defeated, the NYT reports that the fuel economy rider is still pending. Politico adds that the bill is scheduled to go to the House floor today, but that President Obama is already threatening to veto the bill. Having worked with California, environmental groups and the auto industry to hammer out a compromise, it’s unlikely that the White House will approve any final bill that includes a measure to gut the new 2016-2025 standard… but the fact that Republicans are trying to eliminate the EPA’s ability to regulate fuel economy indicates that someone, somewhere wouldn’t mind seeing the newly-approved CAFE standard gutted.

By on July 29, 2011

With congress deadlocked on the debt ceiling, President Obama used today’s ceremony announcing (although not fully revealing) a 2025 CAFE standard to contrast fuel economy standard negotiations with the chaos on Capitol Hill. ABC quotes the President saying

You are all demonstrating what can happen when people put aside differences.  These folks are competitors.  You’ve got labor and business.  But they decided:  We’re going to work together to achieve something important and lasting for the country. So when it comes to tackling the deficit or it comes to growing the economy… the American people are demanding the same kind of resolve, the same kind of spirit of compromise, the same kind of problem solving that all these folks on stage have shown. They’re demanding that people come together and find common ground… That’s what I’m fighting for.  That’s what this debate is all about.  That’s what the American people want.

But getting a bunch of auto CEOs in the same room to agree on one 2025 “number” is a lot easier than breaking a political deadlock: after all, the standard could well be changed during the 2017 review period, so nobody is agreeing to anything set in stone past 2016. And the saber-rattling continues, as industry consultants predict doom for the post-2016 period, when the truck standard hits the same 5% annual improvement rate as cars. Besides, Volkswagen and Daimler are the equivalent in this situation of holdouts in the congress, refusing to appear at today’s ceremony and protesting the proposed standard in the media. And when the final rules is announced, this coalition of exemplary compromise could fall apart, as the Sierra Club threatens

As the administration moves forward to finalize the standard, it is critical that they avoid weakening loopholes and giveaways for the industry, and we look forward to working with them to ensure the strongest 2025 fuel efficiency and pollution standards possible to benefit American families and workers.

Defections on the right and left? Continued saber rattling? No concrete agreement yet in any case? Sounds a lot like congress, actually…

By on July 26, 2011

http://green.autoblog.com/2010/01/12/detroit-2010-pelosi-says-automaker-bailout-protected-industry/Photo Credit: Autoblog Green

It’s getting a little predictable. Go to a big car event like the North American International Auto Show or the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) World Congress and you’re going to see politicians and government officials. I suppose that’s to be expected, but to be honest, I’m a little ticked off at how our public servants get a large megaphone at those events without bearing any of the costs that you, I, or a car company would have to pay for for the same treatment.

For the past three years particularly because of the meltdown of the domestic automakers, the bailout and the US Treasury’s subsequent stakes in GM (still held) and Chrysler (divested so that Fiat could own more), but really since the beginning of time, politicians and auto shows went together. I remember, after a press conference where Wayne County (MI) executive Robert Ficano exchanged gifts with the chairman of the People’s Army owned automaker Changfeng, asking Mr. Ficano just how many Changfeng employees voted in Wayne County. During the ’08 presidential election, most of the primary candidates on the Republican side visited the show’s press preview.

(Read More…)

By on July 25, 2011

With CAFE negotiations heating up, safety regulation coming down the pipe and the UAW pushing for another round of “retooling” loans, GM is upping its profile in the nation’s capitol with a new ad campaign aimed at policymakers. The DetN reports

A Washington-based spokesman for the automaker, Greg Martin, said the effort is to make sure policy makers “are aware of GM’s contribution to our nation’s economic and competitive strength.”

GM has a broader story than just profits and sales, he said.

“GM has started an ad campaign in select Washington publications because there’s more to GM’s resurgence than just increased sales and profitability,” Martin said. “GM is also an auto company investing heavily in America’s future, creating new jobs and inventing solutions and technologies that will make a real difference in energy and safety.”

But the waves of coming auto-related regulations may not actually have motivated the ad so much as the fact that the government is likely to sell off its remaining 26% share in GM by the end of the year (if not by the end of the Summer), and they’re facing an $11b loss at current stock prices. By emphasizing that the auto bailout created a positive corporate citizen rather than just a newly-profitable company, GM likely hopes to convince the government that the political downsides of taking a big loss on The General was ultimately worth it. And that’s an important PR step in the short term as well, as CAFE negotiations are giving rise to bailout-tinged rhetorical attacks on the automaker. For example, Ralph Nader tells the Freep

We give GM billions of dollars, and what do taxpayers get in return? Opposition to a policy that will clearly save them money and give them better cars,

By on July 22, 2011

An anonymous tipster has sent us a copy of a letter from the Michigan congressional delegation to President Obama [PDF here, or hit the jump for an embedded copy], which calls his proposal for a 56.2 MPG CAFE standard by 2025 “overly aggressive and not reasonably feasible.” The letter is remarkable in the sense that the major signatories are Democrats, and yet it attacks the President’s proposal with more vigor than many inside the industry. The letter also confirms that that the Detroit-based automakers already rely on CAFE’s “credit” loopholes in order to meet the 2012-2016 standard, a stunning admission of how far behind Detroit still lags in fleet fuel economy. And rather than taking responsibility for their situation, the MI representatives blame CAFE for Detroit’s low fleet efficiency, arguing that “manufacturers that produce primarily smaller vehicles will have an unfair advantage.” Moreover, the MI reps don’t just admit that Detroit is behind its competition, but even goes as far as to argue that “the overall targets currently proposed may exceed what is technologically achievable for the the US automakers that produce and sell the majority of the larger pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles that US families and businesses -and tens of thousands of autoworkers- depend on.”

In short, the letter strikes me as a shockingly old-school display of excuses and apologia that stands in sharp contrast to the “green car revival” narrative that Detroit and D.C. pushed so hard during the bailout. And frankly, I’d be embarrassed if I ran one of the largest automakers in the world and I was reduced to pleading my inability, on technological grounds no less, to achieve a 56.2 MPG fleet average (which in “window sticker” terms, translates to about 41 MPG EPA) within 15 years… even though CAFE is riddled with loopholes that make it easier to continue building thirsty trucks. If Detroit were actually leading the charge for a gas tax (or offering any kind of market-driven alternative), it might have some credibility on this issue, but as things stand this strikes me as nothing more than whining. So much for America’s “can-do” spirit…

(Read More…)

By on June 23, 2011

Well, I just wrote about 1,500 words on this topic which our post editor just obligingly disappeared into the digital void, wiping out over an hour of work. This was, perhaps, an appropriate turn of events, however, as the majority of those 1,500 words were used to describe the frustrating political stalemate that played out over the last two days of hearings on “The Lasting Implications of the GM Bailout.” The dynamics of the government’s exit from GM seem to have changed little since I wrote “Government Motors: The Exit Strategy,” and the hearings focused on the political implications of the bailout. Having determined that the bailout will help the President’s reelection in midwestern states, the White House (as represented by auto task force member Ron Bloom) sought to retrench its “things would have been worse” position, and Republicans attacked on all fronts for the very same reason. The government’s favorable treatment of UAW-represented workers, especially in comparison to Delphi’s non-UAW retirees was a major point of attack, and the committee caused Bloom deny (under oath) having ever said that “I did this all for the unions,” despite the fact that both the Detroit News’s David Shepardson and Bloom’s task force colleague  Steve Rattner have quoted him directly. Emails obtained by The Daily Caller were also presented as (more) evidence that the government intervened in a number of day-to-day decisions at GM, including the Delphi retiree issue.

Ultimately, the Republicans landed some serious body blows on the policy, although nothing radically new was presented. Bloom, meanwhile, defended the bailout by arguing that the alternative would have been much worse. In short, the political stalemate over the auto bailout continues… much to GM’s dismay. And since insiders are indicating that any collusion to boost GM’s stock price in order to improve the taxpayers’ return would be worse than a larger loss, a $10b+ loss is as good as guaranteed. Which means the Republican attacks will continue and the political trench warfare over the issue will only continue.

[Watch the bailout hearings here]

By on June 17, 2011

Cracks continued to in the ethanol industry’s once-impregnable political vanguard, as the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Senate has voted to roll back the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) as well as import tariffs on foreign-produced ethanol. This rollback of multi-billion-dollar ethanol credits failed earlier in the week, when the Detroit News reports automakers came out in opposition of a bill that would have required that 95% of all cars built in the US be capable of running 85% ethanol by 2017. The Senate did fail to pass a repeal of a government ethanol blending mandate that underpins the VEETC, however, and funding is moving forward for ethanol blending pumps. Still, the Senate’s repeal of VEETC alone means taxpayers could save over $5b per year on subsidies, and as one expert puts it

“Looks like we’re going to be relying on the biofuels mandates to make sure blenders use biofuels, rather than bribing them to use it with $6 billion,” [Bruce Babcock, professor of economics and the director of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University] said.

In fact, Babcock thinks killing the subsidy could help ethanol because it would come out from the stigma of being a subsidized industry. And removing the subsidy may strengthen support for the mandate, and the tariff on imports.

Over to you, House of Representatives…

By on May 26, 2011

If it were up to the candidates for president on the Republican side, we would be driving foreign cars; they would have let the auto industry in America go down the tubes,

These were the words of Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) at a breakfast put on by the Christian Acienec Monitor. But, as TheHill‘s Michael O’Brien reports, Ms Wasserman Shultz owns a 2010 Infiniti FX35 that is built by Nissan in Tochigi, Japan. And, adds O’Brien, “The car appears to be hers, since its license plate includes her initials” (it is, see picture above). The congresswoman’s response (through a spokesperson):

They can try to distract from the issue if they want. But if Republican opposition researchers are snooping around garages, they should know that if Republicans — who said that we should let the U.S. auto industry go bankrupt — had their way, they wouldn’t find a single American made car anywhere.

*Sigh*

By on May 20, 2011

The average price of regular unleaded gasoline was $3.96 this week, an increase of 38 percent over the same time last year. US Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) on Tuesday proposed to temporarily reduce that cost by 18.4 cent cents by suspending the federal gas tax. Under the freshman lawmaker’s plan, the highway trust fund would be replenished by reducing payments made to foreign governments.

“Let’s have a gas tax holiday,” Paul said in a floor speech. “Let’s take the money from foreign aid and let’s give it back to the American people who worked hard to earn it…. That would help people, that would lower the price of gasoline and that would be a stimulus to the economy.”

(Read More…)

By on May 19, 2011

Speaking at Nissan’s Smyrna, TN electric car factory, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood noted that his staff is working with Congress to make federal tax credits for plug-in car purchases available as a rebate on the dealer level, saying

We’d like for people to get a $7,500 rebate on the day they buy the Leaf. We’re doing a lot of talking about it. When you give people that incentive to buy a battery-powered car, they’ll do it. We know these incentives help.

Speaking to Automotive News [sub], LaHood even went as far as to argue that the new direction for the tax credits, which were previously only claimable when filing taxes, would be successful for the reason that it would make the credits more like the Cash For Clunkers program. Apparently LaHood has completely forgotten how riddled with waste, inefficiency, fraud, confusion, delays, unintended consequences and all-purpose madness that program was. And that’s just scraping the surface. Foolish as it is to subsidize vehicles during the “fleecing the early adopters” phase of a new technology rollout (perhaps we should be saving stimulus for the inevitable “trough of disappointment”?), making those credits available at the dealer level is even worse, increasing the hype and incurring C4C-like downsides along the way.

 

By on May 13, 2011

The war of words over a possible 62 MPG 2025 CAFE standard is accelerating this week, as letters in support of the standard [sub] are vying with industry responses against the proposal for media attention. And though environmentalists are quick to point out the often-misunderstood difference between EPA and CAFE mileage ratings (a fact that even the industry-friendly Automotive News [sub] concedes, if only in a blog post], the industry’s response is miles away from any kind of compromise, saying

The alliance believes it is inappropriate to be promoting any specific fuel economy/greenhouse gas at this point

How’s that for some old-school, don’t-tread-on-me corporate attitude? No room for compromise, no sense of nuance… and yet, that doesn’t actually represent the industry’s position at all.

(Read More…)

By on May 11, 2011

Yesterday evening I directed some ire at President Obama’s continued reliance on ethanol as a major plank of his do-nothing transportation/energy agenda, noting

That extra money for 10,000 E15-capable pumps? That’s because no gas station owner will pay to install a pump for a kind of fuel that only cars built since 2001 can use… and which the auto industry has tried to ban. And why E15 in the first place? Because blenders can’t sell enough E10 to blend the government-mandated amount of ethanol and collect their $6b this year in “blender’s credits” to do so. A subsidy to support a subsidy which in turn props up yet another subsidy (I may have missed a subsidy in there somewhere). You can’t make this stuff up.

The “cornerstone” subsidy that all other ethanol subsidies support is the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit, or VEETC, or “blender’s credit,” a $6b per year subsidy that directs 45 cents to refiners for every gallon of ethanol they blend with gasoline. The VEETC nearly died in December’s lame duck session, only to be revived as a way to buy votes for the President’s tax policy. Now, however, The State Column reports that a bipartisan Senate bill has been introduced that would eliminate both the VEETC and import tariffs on foreign-made ethanol. And with a rash of bad news coming out about ethanol, this could just be the opportunity to kill this wasteful government subsidy with fire.

(Read More…)

By on May 6, 2011

Hackles were raised here at TTAC and around the internet this week, when a draft version of the Transportation Opportunity Act circulated, tipping us to the administration’s preference for pay-per-mile road taxation. According to that version of the bill,

section [2218] would establish a Surface Transportation Revenue Alternatives Office within the Federal Highway Administration. The office would analyze the feasibility of implementing a national mileage-based user fee system that would convey prices to users to reflect system use and other travel externalities and serve as a funding source for surface transportation programs.

TTAC has been tracking and criticizing attempts at pay-per-mile taxation (both state and federal) since at least 2007, and because Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had previously come out in support of pay-per-mile road taxes, we weren’t surprised by the TOA’s inclusion of a move towards pay-per-mile. And because the White House smacked LaHood down the last time he praised pay-per-mile, we aren’t all that surprised to find The Hill reporting that the White House is disavowing any interest in pay-per-mile. Spokesfolks explain:

This is not a bill supported by the administration. This was an early working draft proposal that was never formally circulated within the administration, does not take into account the advice of the president’s senior advisers, economic team or Cabinet officials, and does not represent the views of the president

So fear not, Americans opposed to a GPS tracker in every car: the White House has no interest in tracking your every movement. But until such time as a politician finds the cojones to address the highway fund’s shortfall by raising the gas tax, expect pay-per-mile to pop up again and again.

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