Obama orders more EPA regulations for more fuel-efficient "super trucks"

In keeping with his trending pattern of throwing bureaucratic bones to environmentalist groups whilst doing everything he can think of to “act where Congress won’t” (like his administration’s decision last week to initiate a $1 billion “climate resilience fund” that will combat problems of the Obama administration’s own making the effects of weather around the country), President Obama announced today the latest round of fuel-efficiency regulations to be handed down on high from the ever wise and abstemious Environmental Protection Agency:

Speaking at a Safeway distribution center in Maryland, Obama instructed environmental and transportation agencies to get to work on the next round of gas mileage requirements for big trucks. …

“For the first time in nearly 20 years, America produces more oil here at home than we buy from other countries. Our levels of dangerous carbon pollution, that contributes to climate change, have actually gone down even as our production has gone up,” he said.

Obama’s plan builds on a 2011 regulation that set the first-ever fuel standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks for model years 2014-18. It aims to save some 530 million barrels of oil and cut emissions by roughly 270 million metric tons.

Now, the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency – as planned – must develop the next phase of targets for those vehicles for post-2018 model years.

Obama wants them in place by March 2015.

Every mile that we gain in fuel efficiency is worth thousands of dollars of savings every year. So that’s why we’re investing in research to get more fuel economy gains. And thanks to a partnership between industry and my administration, the truck behind me was able to achieve a 75 percent improvement in fuel economy over the last year. 75 percent. That’s why I call this “super truck.” … You can see how they’ve redesigned the truck in order for us to save fuel economy, and improving gas mileage for these trucks are going to drive down our oil imports even further. That reduces carbon pollution even more…

Just creating a mandate that automatically begets better fuel efficiency certainly sounds like a lovely idea, and indeed, improved fuel efficiency has been a factor in our lately reduced carbon emissions — but I can’t help but feel that President Obama just might be omitting some of the tradeoffs that are really involved here.

After all, via the regular ol’ profit motive (I know, it’s so gauche compared to progressive government directive), the incentive for automakers to manufacture vehicles with the optimum level of fuel efficiency is already there in spades. If pushing automakers, as President Obama promises, will really create jobs and wealth and other miraculous benefits, then why aren’t they already getting to work on these more fuel-efficient trucks themselves?

A lot of the news stories covering O’s speech note that most automakers are on board with the pending regulations — of which I’ve no doubt, since it’s very easy to get in line when the federal government comes knocking and starts dangling who knows what kinds of regulatory and financial goodies in front of your face, ahem

The president will also propose a new $200 million tax credit for companies that invest in advanced vehicles and infrastructure, as well as an extension of tax credits for companies developing new biofuels.

But as Kevin Williamson at NRO aptly put it, President Obama is singularly practiced in the “occult art of single-entry bookkeeping”:

Consider his speech today, in which he praised the fuel economy of a new “super truck,” making the point that, since most U.S. freight moves in trucks, lower operating costs for freight operators should in theory mean lower costs for consumers. And he would have a point — if that fuel-economy technology were free. It is not. It costs money to develop. It costs money to deploy. Where it adds to the price of a vehicle, it also adds to ownership costs such as insurance and taxation.

And here’s another demonstrative bit from O’s speech:

Every time someone says you can’t grow the economy while bringing down pollution, it turns out they’ve been wrong.

…I have no idea who it is he thinks he’s talking about there. I think it’s another piece of rhetorical drivel meant to imply that conservatives are always decrying his climate-oriented initiatives out of stubborn spite and that this latest initiative will be a boon to the economy, but in fact, conservatives have been touting that economic growth is an imperative for bringing down pollution, all along (and if they haven’t been saying it explicitly, they should be). Cars and trucks have been getting steadily safer, cleaner, and more fuel-efficient since their invention with no other motivator than the free market, and Obama is just blithely assuming that his latest set of mandates — that in practice might stick us with politically favored technologies before they’re actually cost-effective — will help to grow the economy (yeah, because all of his other regulations have been so brilliantly successful in that regard). Too bad he’s leaving out a serious part of what formulas really equate with true net economic growth.