Obama plan less expensive

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The tougher auto emissions and mileage standards announced by President Obama vindicates Vermont’s battle against automakers and the Bush administration to put cleaner cars that emit fewer greenhouse gases on the state’s roads.

The Obama plan largely mirrors California standards, which were tougher than federal limits on emissions and require better gas mileage to achieve. Vermont’s attempt to adopt the stricter rules earned a court challenge by the auto industry, but Judge William Sessions in U.S. District Court in Burlington ruled in favor of the state. The emissions and mileage standards are moves to fight climate change and to protect our country’s economic future. Last year’s sharp spike in gasoline prices gave this country a glimpse of a future in which people embrace fuel-efficient vehicles out of economic necessity — a market segment dominated by foreign automakers. The Obama plan has been embraced by automakers, which have spent years fighting tougher standards in court and lobbying against them in Congress, saying they now have a single national standard that gives them uniformity and predictability. Automakers could have had a single standard all along by choosing to comply with the toughest rules on the market. The auto industry now says the standards can be met with existing technology and by making improvements in coming vehicles. During the trial, industry witnesses warned that the technology did not exist to meet the California standards and would raise the price of a vehicle by as much as $6,000. The Obama plan is expected to cost about $1,300 per vehicle, which the president says will be made up over time in savings on fuel.

Maybe the auto industry’s change of heart comes from the fact that two of the three major U.S. car companies — Chrysler and General Motors — are running on billions in taxpayer dollars, with the third, Ford, holding off, for now, on drawing federal aid.

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Federal rules to point the automakers in the right direction can be seen as protecting the planet’s future and the taxpayers’ investment in the industry. The time and money the industry spent challenging Vermont in court could have been far better spent developing and more quickly adopting technology to build cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

—Burlington Free Press