The enviros are suspicious -- and rightly so -- because the new rules would enable the Big Three to get around the new Bush standards simply by making bigger cars. Thus Dan Becker, the Sierra Club's global-warming czar, dismissed the new Bush plan as "allowing the auto companies to decide whether we save gas or not."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was one of five U.S. senators who responded by asking Bush to end the "SUV loophole" and make all vehicles meet the 27.5 mpg fleet average -- rather than create a more elaborate SUV loophole. While Detroit complains about niggling federal regulations, closing the loophole would allow car manufacturers to decide how best to meet a universal standard. Selling more hybrid models might well be the ticket. The technology exists. The cost is reasonable and getting better.
One problem, one of the car guys tells me: The public has to want fuel-efficient cars. We are standing on Howard Street, watching SUVs dominate the streets of San Francisco. If consumers in this haven of the left choose to buy gas-guzzlers and refuse to exercise personal responsibility when they shop for wheels, they have little business blaming Bush for not being strong enough on the environment.
Bush should end the SUV loophole, if only to increase America's energy independence and air quality.
And Dubya should end the pricey program that he claims will innovate America out of a future energy pickle. Specifically, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, with federal spending about to go boom, Bush should pull the plug on his Freedom CAR -- CAR stands for Cooperative Automotive Research -- program, which is supposed to develop hydrogen fuel-cell cars after the taxpayers plunk down up to $2 billion on research.
I drove a hydrogen car Friday and had a fun ride. But with a price tag of $1 million to $2 million per fuel-cell car, it's pie-in-the-sky stuff. A Ford executive admitted it would be "a decade or two" before hydrogen fuel-cell cars are commercially viable.
Sorry, but one or two decades is what they always say. Why not? In a decade, there will be another president who can propose a different program.
Meanwhile, taxpayers shouldn't have to foot the bill for fuel savings that may or may not happen ever. As the Sierra Club's Antebi noted, hybrid "technology is on the shelf and it can be applied to almost any car." Now.
As gasoline pushes $3 per gallon, Bush would be doing Detroit a favor. He'd even be helping out gas-guzzlers. Then again, these days they need a break.