Gone Fishin’: Chairman Issa Seeks Clean Car Controversy Where There Is None

December 5, 2011 | 12:15 pm
David Friedman
Former contributor

Fishing is great sport. My dad and I used to go fishing for skipjacks (baby bluefish) off Rocky Point in Rhode Island. It is great for relaxing, for bonding with family and friends, and, if you are both patient and lucky, it can put some good food on the table.  

So, I’m happy to hear when policymakers take some time off and relax by going on a nice fishing trip. After all, they’ve got a tough and important job: doing the people’s business. On the other hand, fishing should be off limits when policymakers are supposed to be doing that important job.

Chairman Issa sent a letter to 15 automakers fishing for controversy over vehicle pollution standards developed by federal and California regulators and supported automakers, unions, national security and consumer groups, and environmental organizations.

Despite that, Congressman Issa, chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform of the U.S. Congress, launched a fishing expedition at the end of November in his latest attempt to stir up controversy over fuel economy and global warming pollution standards. On November 28th, Chairman Issa sent an 11 page letter to all of the automakers who’ve signed on to efforts by the administration and California to set a single set of standards to nearly double new car fuel economy and cut new car global warming pollution in half by 2025.

Now, let me be clear, I’m a strong supporter of the power of Congress to investigate important issues on behalf of the American people.

But this is nothing of the sort. This is a fishing expedition, plain and simple.

Anatomy of a Fishing Expedition

Chairman Issa’s letter contains 18 questions or requests for information, 61 sub-requests/questions, 10 sub-sub-requests/questions, and an additional four pages of instructions and definitions (yes, I did count them all). With that many lines in the waters of 15 automakers, I guess the Chairman is hoping he’ll get a couple of nibbles here or there.

He’s reinforced his chances by designing his questions to require very detailed information about almost every who, what, when, where, why, and how possible: Who participated from the auto industry, government, and other stakeholders. What concessions were made? When and where did meetings take place? Why are fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards different? How did California’s ability to set greenhouse gas standards under the Clean Air Act impact the discussions?

Many of these were already answered as part of previous requests by the Chairman, through testimony before his committee, and by multiple courts in years past, including the Supreme Court. And all of them, of course, are designed to make automakers squirm on the end of a hook.

How Government Should Work

The most frustrating part about this is that the process the administration is going through is exactly the way things should work in Washington. This was not some back-room deal where an industry wrote their own regulations. The administration studied hundreds of technical reports and other information on vehicle technology, consumer behavior, and more. They did peer review of detailed original work on the cost of technologies and fuel economy potential. They sought input from a wide variety of different stakeholders. And, in the end, the administration put the best information to work to develop a program that will help guide the future of clean cars for more than a decade.

Nobody got everything they wanted, but Americans got a proposal supported by automakers, unions, national security and consumer groups, and environmental organizations. Now, that proposal is out for public comment to make sure everyone’s voice is heard, and by next summer it should be finalized based on the latest science and broad input.

We don’t send politicians to Washington to go on fishing expeditions. We send them to our Nation’s Capital to solve difficult problems and get something done. American’s want standards like those proposed. All you have to do is look at the Congressman’s own state. Over 80 percent of Californian’s surveyed support strong greenhouse gas emissions standards, and with good reason, since they will save consumers billions on gasoline, cut our oil addiction, and lower carbon pollution.

So, instead of fighting clean cars and looking for controversy where there is none, Congressman Issa should hang up his fishing pole and support the administration and his own state in their efforts to do the people’s business.


Photo Credit: Fishing on a Foggy Morning, Oceanside CA Pier by JoelnSouthernCA