Governor LePage: Why isn’t saving money on gas a good idea?

Jane West

Photo credit: S1acker, flickr

As you hit the road this holiday weekend, you will be joining millions of others in filling up your gas tank and will watch in consternation as your paycheck pours into your tank. The sad thing is, you are probably driving a vehicle that gets far less than 45 mpg, so you might have to fill that tank more than once to get back home.

These days, Americans spend on average $369 dollars a month on gas. By contrast, the average monthly gas bill in April 2009 was $201. That’s a lot less money that you have to go towards dining out and hotel rooms this holiday weekend. The good news is that the EPA and DOT are currently contemplating raising fuel economy requirements to between 47 to 62 mpg starting with all 2017 model vehicles. That means  getting twice or even three times as far without having to fill up.

You would think that states buckling under the weak economy would rejoice at any effort that would give folks more money to spend. Unfortunately, Governor LePage seems to disagree.

In response to EPA and DOT’s effort, LePage joined a small handful of other governors this week in a signing a letter to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson cautioning them to be  “sensible” about raising fuel economy standards and claiming that “overreaching regulations can be a cost burden on individuals, families and businesses in our state” because the technology used for fuel-efficient vehicles makes them more expensive for consumers.

In other words, we haven’t learned any lessons, we couldn’t care less if our constituents have to spend half their paycheck at the pump and we have no problem with our addiction to foreign oil.

Fuel efficiency standards for 2012-2016 were set in 2007 at 35 mpg. When those standards were about to go into place, there was a remarkably similar wave of national hand-wringing. People were concerned that the new standards would have a negative effect on the auto industry and Americans’ perceived need to have large, affordable vehicles. Yet, the sky didn’t fall. Detroit had been teetering on the brink of survival not because of MPG standards but due to their failure to stay ahead of the innovation curve, like Toyota, in creating fuel efficient vehicles. The success of the Ford Focus speaks for itself.

Opponents to increasing the MPG standards claim that the government needs to stay out of this — market demand will dictate higher fuel efficiency.  But the data doesn’t bear that assertion out.  In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report on the effects of the CAFE standard. The report concluded that in the absence of fuel economy regulations, motor vehicle fuel consumption would have been approximately 14 percent higher than it actually was in 2002.

Americans are fully capable of stepping up to the plate and developing the affordable technology necessary to bring the higher standard to fruition. They’ve done it before and they can do it again. And here’s the thing– a whopping 78 percent of Americans think they should. According to a recent poll by the Mellman Group, the majority of Americans support efforts by the auto industry to reduce CO2 emissions. And if that also means saving money on gas, then Maine should be embracing the new standards and not trying to slow them down.

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