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The Insanity of Energy Efficiency Politics

Thomas Friedman, of the New York Times, points out the insanity of Energy Efficiency politics. He writes:

What is it about Michigan that seems to encourage assisted suicide? That is all I can think watching Michigan congressmen and senators, led by Representative John Dingell, doing their best imitations of Jack Kevorkian and once again trying to water down efforts by Congress to legislate improved mileage standards for Detroit in the latest draft energy bill….What I don’t get is empty-barrel politics — Michigan lawmakers year after year shielding Detroit from pressure to innovate on higher mileage standards, even though Detroit’s failure to sell more energy-efficient vehicles has clearly contributed to its brush with bankruptcy, its loss of market share to Toyota and Honda — whose fleets beat all U.S. automakers in fuel economy in 2007 — and its loss of jobs. G.M. today has 73,000 working U.A.W. members, compared with 225,000 a decade ago. Last year, Toyota overtook G.M. as the world’s biggest automaker.Thank you, Michigan delegation! The people of Japan thank you as well.But assisting Detroit’s suicide seems to be contagious. Everyone wants to get in on it, including Toyota. Toyota, which pioneered the industry-leading, 50-miles-per-gallon Prius hybrid, has joined with the Big Three U.S. automakers in lobbying against the tougher mileage standards in the Senate version of the draft energy bill.Now why would Toyota, which has used the Prius to brand itself as the greenest car company, pull such a stunt? Is it because Toyota wants to slow down innovation in Detroit on more energy efficient vehicles, which Toyota already dominates, while also keeping mileage room to build giant pickup trucks, like the Toyota Tundra, at the gas-guzzler end of the U.S. market? “Toyota wants to keep its green halo and beat G.M. in the big trucks, too,” said Deron Lovaas, vehicles expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “As the world’s largest automaker and inventor of the best-selling hybrid car, Toyota has a responsibility to lead, follow or get out of the way as Congress debates the first substantial fuel-economy boost in decades. Shamefully, Toyota has joined forces with older automakers that are getting their lunch handed to them in the marketplace, in part because they’ve consistently shunned fuel efficiency.”

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