The Senate on June 21 passed legislation raising Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. Nothing raises blood pressure among automakers quite like CAFE.
Detroit hates CAFE. With a passion. For decades, the auto industry's lobbyists successfully fought increases in CAFE standards by spreading morbid tales about the apocalypse that would descend upon America if standards were tightened. Consumers robbed of their freedom. Farmers forced to trade in their trusty pickups for Yugos. Thousands killed on the highways. Millions thrown out of work.
And for the most part, the campaign of fear and loathing worked. Until now. The political dynamic has changed. Even Ted Stevens supports increasing fuel economy standards. While the House has not yet acted and President Bush is threatening a veto, the Senate's action -- albeit by voice vote, which enables senators to cover their tracks -- is a significant departure from timidity and complacency.
What's changed? The fear factor has changed. Detroit's PR guys aren't getting as much mileage pitching phony fears that tighter CAFE standards would force Americans to buy teeny, dorky-looking death traps. High gasoline prices have hit Americans in the pocketbooks and security threats are getting on their nerves.
Americans are catching on that oil dependence is a strategic liability. Every tankful that we buy amounts to writing a check, payable in U.S. dollars, to oil-funded bad actors overseas who wish our country ill. Our petroleum demand props up prices. Think of high gas prices as a tax that we pay to subsidize Iran's nuclear dabbling.
Raising CAFE standards is long overdue for security, economic, and environmental reasons. Fuel efficiency ought to be a conservative cause, carried out for the highest of conservative values â the defense of our freedom. Conservatives are beginning to embrace the idea, which is positive, but one is tempted to ask what took them so long.
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