July 23, 2007

Chairman Dingell, please raise your standards!

Rep. John Dingell (MI-15), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is known far and wide as a reliable representative of the auto industry. But does he represent his district? Polling data released at a press conference today indicates that, at least on raising CAFE standards, his resistance to higher fuel efficiency standards is out of step with both his constituents and the country as a whole.

The poll, conducted on behalf of the Pew Campaign for Fuel Efficiency by Democratic Pollster Mark Mellman and Republican pollster Bill McInturff, showed across the board majority support for higher, binding standards and more rapid implementation. Over 3900 likely voters were sampled in 34 congressional districts in Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida and Michigan, where House members are wavering on whether or not to support higher CAFE standards.

Upwards of two-thirds of respondents said that they'd have a more favorable opinion of Congress if such a bill were passed. Agreement was in the 60-70 percent range that respondents would have a more favorable opinion of their individual member of Congress for passing such a bill.

The poll found 59 percent of Dingell's own constituents saying they'd have a better opinion of him for voting in favor of a bill with tough CAFE standards, and only 17 percent saying they'd have a less favorable opinion of him, while 84 percent of them support higher standards. In answer to a particularly telling question, 63 percent of union households in Dingell's district supported higher, mandatory CAFE standards as opposed to the 85 percent who supported at least some increase in CAFE standards. After hearing arguments that CAFE increases would threaten union jobs and benefits, 68 percent of the union households in Dingell's district supported them.

But which bill? Follow below the fold for more ...

Diarist Navy Vet Terp summed up the competing CAFE legislation nicely just yesterday:

The Senate has already passed an Energy Bill that mandates 35 mpg in autombiles by 2020. This week the House of Representatives will be voting on two bills on mandatory fuel standards.

One bill, H.R. 2927, Hill-Terry, will raise mandatory fuel economy by the year 2022 to a minimum of 32 miles per gallon. The Secretary of Transportation may by regulation provide for a greater fuel standard, but cannot go above 35 miles per gallon. This is the bill supported by John Dingell and the auto industry, including the UAW.

The second bill, a far better bill, is H.R. 1506, the Markey-Platts Bill, which will provide for a mandatory fuel standard of 27.5 miles per gallon by 2012, and 35 miles per gallon by 2018. ...

In the polling questions, both bills were compared for respondents. In every district, they supported the Markey-Platts bill, with its higher, mandatory standards and earlier start date by 50 point margins. It's this bill, that insists on 35 mpg fuel efficiency standards by 2018, that had this group of likely voters saying that it would improve their opinion of Congress as a whole and their representative in particular. Roughly 90 percent of voters in all states surveyed thought the House should pass standards at or above the levels passed by the Senate.

Greater than 60 percent of voters opposed putting a cap on CAFE standard increases, while 84 percent preferred achieving a 35 mpg increase by 2018, as opposed to 2022.

Mellman said that they'd also taken the additional step of exposing respondents to the other side of the debate, the points put forward by the auto industry. He said they "tried to be very fair" and "recited most of their arguments," but that "voters just don't believe or aren't persuaded." MacInturff said that they'd taken the arguments they presented from auto companies' own advertising strategies. Still, three quarters or more of the voters polled still supported the tougher standards after hearing the opposing arguments. Voters continued to believe, 71 percent of them, that higher CAFE standards were preferable after hearing auto companies' reasons for opposing them.

Arguments laid out to voters included concerns that vehicles would get lighter and therefore less safe, that they would cost more, that it would hurt US auto companies, that it would take SUVs and pickup trucks off the market, and that auto workers would lose their jobs or have their retirement plans and benefits jeopardized. Between 69 and 81 percent of respondents believed that higher standards would instead force US companies to innovate, which would protect American jobs. Other benefits 60 or more percent of voters believed higher CAFE standards would bring included saving money at the gas pump, less dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and less air pollution.

The argument that cars, trucks and SUVs would be less powerful found more traction, particularly in Kentucky. However, respondents continued to support higher standards, even so.

McInturff said that Republicans were "always going to be softer when it comes to any type of federal mandate or requirement" than Democrats. Still, he said their support was real for higher, binding standards enacted more quickly. He also said that while global warming arguments weren't as persuasive with Republicans, there were a wealth of other reasons to bring out in support of higher CAFE standards that cut across party lines and that climate change didn't even have to come into the picture.

McInturff also said that "both the price and the foreign policy consequences are capturing people's attention" in ways they weren't two years ago.

Michael Specter of the Wall Street Journal said that industry studies indicated that consumers talked a good game about CAFE standards, but that when they went to buy a car, fuel efficiency ranked somewhere around 20th in their list of priorities. Kevin Curtis of Pew said that, "The point is that the consumers want both, and there's absolutely no reason they can't get both." Curtis went on to say that several studies, one by the National Academy of Sciences, indicated that consumers shouldn't have to choose between the types of vehicles they have now and higher fuel efficiency.

Mellman said he found it hard to believe that the auto industry would spend millions of dollars on advertising the fuel efficiency of their vehicles if they really thought consumers didn't care.

The poll's margin of error was +/- 5 percent.

If you support the Markey-Platts bill, please find your representative and call their office, or call the United States Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121, and ask to be put through to them to register your support this week. Posted by natasha at July 23, 2007 01:42 PM | Energy | Technorati links |


I'd be curious to know whether the pollsters explained that the Markey bill would affect all those Americans who depend on minivans, SUVs, and trucks for their jobs? Americans all across the country depend on these vehicles to tow the load so to speak.

Thankfully, support for the bipartisan Hill-Terry bill is growing, now with 100 cosponsors. My organization at http://www.drivecongress.com looks forward to the challenge of meeting the new standards.

Posted by: HybridLover at July 25, 2007 08:54 AM

If you'd looked at the report, follow the link to the Pew Campaign for Fuel Efficiency, you'd see that this ridiculous argument was soundly rejected by the poll respondents. Even poll respondents who owned SUVs and trucks.

There is no reason besides greed, laziness, incompetence and complete indifference to the fate of our ecosystem why the big auto companies can't give us fuel efficient vehicles that are also large enough to replace the work vehicles people drive right now. And it won't affect people who already own those vehicles, because this is about new cars coming out, except that if it reduces demand for gasoline then it might help ease prices for everyone.

The Hill-Terry bill does jack in terms of real reform. It's irritatingly useless and restricts the government from enacting tougher reforms. We need serious reductions in carbon emissions ASAP, it's ridiculous that this pressing need is being held hostage by the foot-dragging of industry shills like yourself.

And frankly, the auto industry is just one of the many large industries who, instead of investing in innovation, focuses solely on siphoning off value to pay ridiculous executive compensation and satisfy the demands of Wall Street. But they are entrusted with significant resources and control a key part of our economy, something that affects everyone, every day. It isn't unreasonable to ask that, every once in a while, they act in the public interest.

And do you not get the seriousness of the situation in which we find ourselves? Do you know that we might lose the ability to grow wheat in much of this country's breadbasket regions? Do you know that Alaska is washing out to sea because the ground is melting out from under them? Do you know that they're discovering new sodding islands in Greenland that were previously supporting huge mountains of ice? What the bleeping heck is wrong with you people?

Doing 'something' isn't good enough. Doing something effective is what's necessary, and an overwhelming majority of the American public already understands that.

Species traitor.

Posted by: natasha at July 25, 2007 12:43 PM