John Snow on Workable CAFE Standards

By July 18, 2007Energy, Global Warming

As noted below, John Snow spoke at the National Press Club this afternoon, splitting his comments about half and half between the auto industry and the private equity business. A reasonable balance, since the former Treasury Secretary now heads Cerberus Capital Management L.P., which is raising money to buy Chrysler from Daimler-Chrysler. (Latest news on that process here.)

The news? Probably Snow’s sounded-like-an-endorsement-to-us of H.R. 2927, the bill to increase CAFE standards in a reasonable, market-and-technology acknowledging fashion. The bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Reps. Baron Hill (D-IN) and Lee Terry (R-NE), picked up its 51 cosponsor yesterday, so it’s gaining attention as a doable alternative to the extreme, jobs-killing Senate version.

Here are Snow’s remarks on the different pieces of legislation:

We are supporting a proposal that would very significantly raise auto fuel economy standards, a large increase, but an increase that while it’s a challenge and while it is difficult, we can see our way to doing. Our problem with some of the proposals up there is that given present technology, given the tastes of consumers and the need for us to produce the cars that people really want, if we going to succeed, the legislation simply isn’t workable. I want to comment a number of people – too many to mention – but the authors of H.R. 2927 have a good approach. Congressman Barton has come forward with a good approach. There’s a rising, I think, understanding, increasing understanding of the need to get a workable solution here, and what we’re committed to doing is to be part of finding that workable solution.

The NAM has a fact sheet available on the Hill-Terry bill here in .pdf format, and more CAFE resources at this page.

And we’ve placed a (self-transcribed, unofficial) transcript of Snow’s comments on CAFE in the extended entry below.


John Snow, National Press Club, July 18, 2007

It’s interesting when I think back on my career, I’m circling back on myself, because in 1976, as the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, I wrote the first CAFE rules. And now we’re facing a debate on where we should go with CAFE.

Let me say where we’re coming from on that. We understand fully the need to reduce American dependence on Middle Eastern oil. We understand as well the need to reduce tailpipe emissions, CO2 emissions. Therefore, we also are committed to a proposal to raise CAFE.

Now, I think over the last 30 years, the auto industry unfortunately has lost some credibility on this topic, and you can’t help sense that when you talk to people around Washington. We’re not the old automobile industry. We’re the fresh eyes on today’s problems, and we’re committed to trying to find a solution on the Hill that advances the objectives of less dependence on Middle Eastern oil, less CO2, but does so in a way that sustains this great industry, that gives this industry an opportunity to continue to be competitive and to continue to succeed.

My problem with the Senate bill is that while it pursues the objectives of cleaner air and less dependence on Middle Eastern oil, it does so in a disproportionate way. It visits too much of the answer to those problems on this one industry. This industry accounts for less than 20 percent of the total use of Middle Eastern oil, of energy, and yet this legislation visits on this industry a huge portion of the total burden of trying to find answers to C02 and fuel economy. And it does so in a way that isn’t really balanced and really isn’t workable.

We are supporting a proposal that would very significantly raise auto fuel economy standards, a large increase, but an increase that while it’s a challenge and while it is difficult, we can see our way to doing. Our problem with some of the proposals up there is that given present technology, given the tastes of consumers and the need for us to produce the cars that people really want, if we going to succeed, the legislation simply isn’t workable. I want to comment a number of people – too many to mention – but the authors of H.R. 2927 have a good approach. Congressman Barton has come forward with a good approach. There’s a rising, I think, understanding, increasing understanding of the need to get a workable solution here, and what we’re committed to doing is to be part of finding that workable solution.

Yesterday the dealers were in town, and I’m told of a meeting that many of the dealers had on the Hill, and some of the dealers were laying out to the Congress the fact that unless we’re able to sell cars people want, we won’t have a very good business. Some of these were minority dealers, dealers who’d made a great success of their business, who were receiving a very sympathetic response when they said, “Congressman, look, we want to be part of the solution, but let’s make sure that solution is one that’s workable for this industry.” That’s what we want.

I know a lot of people feel the auto industry has had its head in the sand, that it’s stonewalled for 30 years, that it has cried wolf – all those things. I think the auto industry recognizes that a new age has dawned, a new age is here, and we’re committed to being part of what is a solution, a balanced solution, and a workable solution to these issues of an overdependence on Middle Eastern oil and C02.

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