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Lawmakers press concerns over fuel efficiency rules

Lawmakers press concerns over fuel efficiency rules
© Greg Nash

Lawmakers on Thursday pressed Obama administration officials on fuel economy and gas emissions standards for cars, raising concerns they could hike prices for consumers and impact safety.

Rep. Michael BurgessMichael Clifton BurgessCards Against Humanity offering midterm expansion pack in effort to back Dems in key races Overnight Health Care: Bill banning 'gag clauses' on drugs heads to Trump's desk | Romney opposes Utah Medicaid expansion | GOP candidate under fire over ad on pre-existing conditions Twitter’s Dorsey apologizes to McCain family for ‘unacceptable’ tweet MORE (R-Texas) voiced “serious concerns about the real-world impact” of the standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that outline regulations for vehiclemakers during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing.

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“As strongly as I feel about energy efficiency, I feel equally as strongly that government should not be in the business of telling consumers what they can use and cannot purchase,” Burgess said.

“The issue of a product’s efficiency, whether it be a light bulb or a motor vehicle, should be between the manufacturer, company that manufactures, and the consumer.”

The standards are intended to encourage energy-efficient vehicles like hybrid or electric cars, but critics have questioned whether those vehicles are too expensive for many consumers and as safe as traditional vehicles.

“We ignore the consumer in our own peril,” Burgess told administration officials at the hearing.

Rep. David McKinleyDavid Bennett McKinleySuper PACs spend big in high-stakes midterms Twitter chief faces GOP anger over bias at hearing Live coverage: Social media execs face grilling on Capitol Hill MORE (R-W.Va.) questioned whether “rural America” will be able to afford the vehicles subject to the regulations.

“How do we justify increasing that cost to people in low-income states, like West Virginia, or Arkansas, or Mississippi? Because we have to buy those cars too," he asked.

“It’s one thing if you want to promote the car in Connecticut or Maryland where there’s $70,000 median family incomes, but in rural America, in poorer states with $38,000, $39,000, or $40,000 — that’s a big discrepancy,” McKinley said. “But yet we’re trying to buy the same car.”

Officials estimate the cost of a vehicle in 2025 will increase by between $894 and $1,017 compared to a vehicle in 2021, and the cost would increase by $356 when factoring in electric vehicles.

But officials at the hearing assured lawmakers their regulations will insure “a wide array of cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles” while acknowledging their concerns.

Janet McCabe, the Environmental Protection Agency's top air pollution regulator, said the standards are designed to ensure automakers and administrators aren’t “compromising safety for environmental and fuel economy benefit.”

“This program does not require cars to be made lighter,” McCabe said. “It allows the automakers to provide a range of cars, so that they can fully take into account all of those considerations.”

John Bozzella, president and CEO of the Association of Global Automakers, Inc., said the rules need to encourage innovation.

“We need to expand our options and choices,” Bozzella said. “We’re lagging woefully in building the infrastructures to support electric vehicles.”

Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) also expressed concerns about costs to consumers, but noted that “vehicle costs are rising due to many changes in vehicles, not just fuel economy, enhanced performance, greater safety features, greater comfort and other amenities."

She also noted that customers get a "direct pay back" thanks to fuel economy savings.

Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) said he worried the rules were also straining dealers.

Olson told officials of a car dealer in Texas being forced to stock electric vehicles on his lots.

“He’s exploding the sales of pickup trucks and SUVs, but these sales are curtailed because he doesn’t have the space on his lot, because of these electric vehicles,” Olson said.