Gas War Watch: UAW Goes to Congress, Sides With Automakers on Fuel Economy Rollback

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
gas war watch uaw goes to congress sides with automakers on fuel economy rollback

The United Auto Workers is spending Thursday telling Congress that the union opposes the Trump administration’s proposal to freeze fuel efficiency requirements at 2020 levels through 2026… sort of. While the UAW expressed moderate environmental concerns in the past, most of its opposition to the rollback has revolved around corporate investments into the industry. In fact, the union’s research arm called fuel economy the auto industry’s “future” in 2018.

This time around, the UAW seems to be singularly focused on business aspects. According to a prewritten testimony, UAW Legislative Director Josh Nassar intends to tell two subcommittees of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee that the union is in line with automakers’ concerns about the proposal leading to “protracted litigation and uncertainty in the industry that will limit growth.”

Despite lobbying to have the rules softened, the auto industry is now concerned that pushback from California and a collation of supportive states could throw a wrench in the plan or even split the American market in half. If you’re want some background on the subject, we’ve covered it endlessly. But, to summarize, California is ready to go to court over the ability to set its own fuel-economy rules and vowed to sue if it doesn’t get its way. Automakers (and even oil concerns like BP) have repeatedly asked for the White House to seek common ground with the Golden State. But neither side seems interested in losing one iota of regulatory power, at least according to the other’s claims.

Reuters reported that California Air Resources Board head Mary Nichols will also be present on Thursday to better explain the state’s position. “We have been open to accommodations that would adjust compliance timing and flexibility, that would create new paths to promote innovative technologies and zero emission vehicles, and that would benefit the public,” her testimony states, adding that “the net cost of the federal rollback nationally at $168 billion.”

Louisiana Attorney General Jeffrey Landry be on hand issue a rebuttal to California’s claim that it should be allowed to self regulate. “California should not be able to effectively dictate fuel economy standards, tailpipe emission requirements, and mandates for zero emission vehicles,” his testimony reads. “California has circumvented Congress and used its size to create a de facto national fuel efficiency framework.”

In addition to calling California a bit of a bully, proponents of the rollback have also claimed the existing efficiency targets are in stark contrast with market realities. Consumers, encouraged by low gas prices and personal preference, have shifted increasingly toward larger crossover vehicles. In fact, sales-weighted Corporate Average Fuel Economy research has shown practical U.S. efficiencies stagnating since 2014, as economy focused vehicles have fallen out of favor.

From Reuters:

Deputy National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator (NHTSA) Heidi King told the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday that existing fuel efficiency standards have hiked the cost of new vehicles and may “discourage consumers from replacing their older car with a newer car that is safer, cleaner and more fuel efficient.”

She will raise concerns before the House panel Thursday that the United States is “facing an affordability crisis in the new car market,” according to her testimony seen by Reuters.

King said NHTSA and the Environmental Protection Administration are reviewing more than 650,000 comments. King and Bill Wehrum, the EPA’s assistant administrator for air and radiation, will testify on Thursday at the House hearing. The agencies are working to finalize the rule “as soon as possible,” according to Wehrum’s written testimony.

The “preferred alternative will prevent thousands of on-road fatalities and injuries” compared to the Obama-era standards “as more people can afford safer, new cars,” his testimony said. Environmentalists and California strongly disagree with that analysis.

The safety argument is a little wonky. Regardless of efficiency rules, automakers will have to continue building cars under existing safety mandates. But there is a chance that manufacturers could start relying on smaller, lightweight models to reach swelling mpg targets. Critics are worried these hypothetical automobiles won’t perform terribly well when going head-to-head with older/larger vehicles. However, we’re inclined to believe that the biggest risks stem from going against consumer trends or dissuading the industry from innovating. Unfortunately, championing either side fully essentially encourages one of the two outcomes.

[Image: Nithid Memanee/Shutterstock]

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  • Brn Brn on Jun 20, 2019

    Is it a rollback if we haven't gotten there yet? Maybe it's just not rolling forward as far.

  • SuperCarEnthusiast SuperCarEnthusiast on Jun 21, 2019

    Never thought that the UAW would side with the environmentist! Looks like everyone is against President Trump in whatever he tries to do to help improve the country’s economy! Still not infrastructure bill, no increase funding for border security, no.....!

    • HotPotato HotPotato on Jun 22, 2019

      Dude, infrastructure is possibly the one thing there's strong bipartisan agreement on. If Trump can't get it done, that's on him -- tying it to unrelated crap like the border -- and the sour turtle Mitch McConnell (who has decreed that no Democratic or even BIPARTISAN bill shall be allowed to pass the Senate).

  • Lou_BC "Owners of affected Wrangles" Does a missing "r" cancel an extra stud?
  • Slavuta One can put a secret breaker that will disable the starter or spark plug supply. Even disabling headlights or all lights will bring more trouble to thieves than they wish for. With no brake lights, someone will hit from behind, they will leave fingerprints inside. Or if they steal at night, they will have to drive with no lights. Any of these things definitely will bring attention.I remember people removing rotor from under distributor cup.
  • Slavuta Government Motors + Government big tech + government + Federal police = fascist surveillance state. USSR surveillance pales...
  • Johnster Another quibble, this time about the contextualization of the Thunderbird and Cougar, and their relationship to the prestigious Continental Mark. (I know. It's confusing.) The Thunderbird/Mark IV platform introduced for the 1971 model year was apparently derived from the mid-sized Torino/Montego platform (also introduced for the 1971 model year), but should probably be considered different from it.As we all know, the Cougar shared its platform with the Ford Mustang up through the 1973 model year, moving to the mid-sized Torino/Montego platform for the 1974 model year. This platform was also shared with the failed Ford Gran Torino Elite, (introduced in February of 1974, the "Gran Torino" part of the name was dropped for the 1975 and 1976 model years).The Thunderbird/Mark series duo's separation occurred with the 1977 model year when the Thunderbird was downsized to share a platform with the LTD II/Cougar. The 1977 model year saw Mercury drop the "Montego" name and adopt the "Cougar" name for all of their mid-sized cars, including plain 2-doors, 4-doors and and 4-door station wagons. Meanwhile, the Cougar PLC was sold as the "Cougar XR-7." The Cougar wagon was dropped for the 1978 model year (arguably replaced by the new Zephyr wagon) while the (plain) 2-door and 4-door models remained in production for the 1978 and 1979 model years. It was a major prestige blow for the Thunderbird. Underneath, the Thunderbird and Cougar XR-7 for 1977 were warmed-over versions of the failed Ford Elite (1974-1976), while the Mark V was a warmed-over version of the previous Mark IV.
  • Stuart de Baker This is depressing, and I don't own one of these.