Biden Admin Withdraws Nomination for NHTSA Leadership

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

The White House withdrew the nomination of Ann Carlson to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Tuesday, following criticisms that she was unqualified to fill the role. Despite Carlson serving as the acting administrator since September, the Senate Commerce Committee had accused her of being a career environmentalist with no formal background in roadway safety.

Though it’s hard to see why that’s relevant these days, as similar accusations could be thrown at the current United States Secretary of Transportation. Prior to being scooped up by the Biden administration, Pete Buttigieg was the mayor of a town in Indiana with an impressive academic record. But his work with the transportation sector was extremely limited.

He has likewise attempted to implement modern environmental concerns into the Department of Transportation. But this has been an obligatory issue for the administration since taking office, with Joe Biden setting a national goal of having 50 percent of all new vehicle sales be electric by 2030 and setting aside billions of dollars to incentivize the transition.

While Buttigieg has been criticized for being unqualified, the push back against Carlson seemed more focused. Though this may be a matter of the Senate’s commerce panel digging its heels into the dirt of late. The administration’s picks for the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Aviation Administration were also shot down by Congress and were ultimately withdrawn by the White House.

As for Carlson, Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee seemed extremely perturbed with her role in the development of fuel-economy standards in 2021. Accusations revolved around how rampant environmentalism served as a distraction from roadway safety, with members citing rising traffic fatalities over the last few years.

“Based on your record, we are deeply concerned that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will follow the EPA’s lead and propose similarly radical vehicle fuel economy standards that run contrary to the law, diminish vehicle choice, impose higher costs on American families, and undermine our national and energy security all while [benefiting] China,” Republicans on the Commerce Committee told Carlson in a letter. “As NHTSA finalizes a proposal for new fuel economy standards for model years 2027 to 2032, we urge you to reject the EPA’s economically destructive regulatory overreach.”

“There is nothing in federal law that authorizes NHTSA to set fuel economy standards that effectively mandate the production of EVs in order to force gas-powered vehicles out of existence. Such an EV mandate would appear to violate the Supreme Court’s major questions doctrine as articulated in West Virginia v. EPA because using fuel economy standards to force automakers to electrify vehicles would have ‘vast economic and political significance’ and thus require ‘clear congressional authorization.’ NHTSA not only lacks such ‘clear congressional authorization,’ it is specifically prohibited by federal law from considering the fuel economy of EVs when setting fuel-economy standards. Yet that is precisely what NHTSA did last year when setting 2024-26 fuel economy standards and would do so again if it follows the EPA’s lead.”

Obviously, politics play a major role in the matter. The Biden administration has been encouraging numerous federal agencies to focus on environmentalism, with the DOT and NHTSA being no different. However, under the Trump administration, an emphasis was made to keep automobiles affordable by not over-regulating the industry. The theory here was that lighter, fuel efficient gas vehicles would be environmentally sound and help retain domestic jobs. The move was also supposed to serve consumers by ensuring the vehicles they preferred remained prevalent and on the market.

But one cannot help but point out that both schemes (Republican or Democrat led) seem to focus on issues that supersede the fundamental tenets of promoting safety. Instead, they’re targeting broader market issues and the potential economic ramifications of trying to mandate all-electric vehicles.

Ann Carlson’s previous role as an environmental law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles makes it clear which side of the fence she’s on. She has likewise expressed her appointment as evidence that the Biden administration wants serious climate experts overseeing federal agencies. However, that failed to make her popular with influential people.

Numerous industry groups pressured Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA.) and ranking member Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to block her nomination. While many of these were predictably tied to the oil and gas industry, several farming groups and agricultural lobbies were also on board with concerns that she may promote a restrictive regulatory environment.

The backlash seems to have worked. The White House has pulled Carlson’s nomination without expressing exactly why the decision was made. Though we imagine the above criticisms and lobbying influence played a meaningful role.

[Image: Tada Images/Shutterstock]

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Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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3 of 38 comments
  • Pippin Pippin on Jun 02, 2023

    Republicans Senators - "We refuse to support your nomination because you don't have a background in traffic safety! That's the priority!"

    Biden nominates someone with a background in traffic safety

    Republican Senators - "This new nominee is totally unacceptable! They're in favor of new regulations to improve traffic safety! We need big government out of (men's) lives!"

  • Dartdude Dartdude on Jun 02, 2023

    She didn't have any transportation experience. She is McConnel's wife and Trump was hoodwinked by the Washington insiders. If he reelected he won't make that mistake again. Pothole Pete didn't have very favorable reviews as mayor.

    • VoGhost VoGhost on Jun 05, 2023

      "Trump won't make that mistake again." No, prison inmates rarely do. Trump's next residence isn't the White House, it's the Big House.

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  • Lou_BC ???
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