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Capitol Hill Capitulation

An open letter to the US Senate, the auto industry and the American public.

By Bill Moore

Pontius Pilate is alive and well and living on Capitol Hill.

It somehow seems ironically appropriate that within a few weeks of the anniversary of the betrayal and execution of Jesus of Nazareth by the infamous Rome procurator, Pontius Pilate that 62 US Senators symbolically washed their hands of their responsibility for this nation's security and wellbeing. They did it when they voted for an amendment written largely by the auto industry, and which is intended to thwart any future efforts to increase the efficiency of American automobiles and light trucks.

Taking their turns on the floor of the Senate, they hypocritically postured and posed and threatened the end of life in rural America as we know it. They repeated decades old excuses and outright lies. Not one of these "honorable" men and women saw fit to deprive Americans of their rights to SUV roller overs - - 70,000 of which are estimated to occur in 2002 alone.

Nor would they deign to rein in America's insatiable appetite for imported oil, which we to guzzle at a rate 127 barrels per second, 7,638 per minute, 458,333 per hour, 11 million per day. Some one million of which comes from Sadam Hussein's Iraq, presumably the next military target in the "war" on terrorism. At $25 a barrel, what do you think he's doing with all those US dollars? Humanitarian aide?

Tragically, it seems that while these 62 senators - - two of them from my home state - - are eager to support an undeclared war of revenge in Afghanistan, spilling precious American blood - - not to mention Afghan blood - - they apparently have little or no intention of doing anything concrete that would enhance America's energy security at home.

After effectively killing any improvements in fuel economy, the Senate voted down a modest 20% renewable energy portfolio bill. Apparently it is easier to call up the fleet and send young Americans in harms way than it is to wean us from our national oil addiction, or to tell Detroit to take its soft money and its sorry ass excuses and shove them both where the "sun don't shine."

Now if I sound angry, you're right. I am.

At the very moment Trent Lott was whining that he couldn't fit his backside into a European mini-car, the Detroit News was carrying a story about how the Big Three are racing to bring back the big-bore, gas-sucking muscle cars of the 1960s. The reason? They see huge profits to be reaped from a geo-politically-nearsighted American public.

Talk about audacity!

I know a lot of people in the auto industry read EV World and many of them are concerned about the fate of our nation and our shared global environment. Many work on innovative programs to produce more fuel-efficient, less-polluting cars and trucks. A few have told me privately how frustrated they are by their management's two-faced policies and tactics.

But the truth is, Detroit's heart just isn't in it, folks. It's much more fun - - and profitable -- to build gas guzzling behemoths than it is to exercise responsible corporate stewardship. Besides they can always blame it on American consumers, and here they are probably right to a degree.

Too many Americans see absolutely no connection between the smelly, flammable liquid they pump every day into their F150s, Durangos, and Suburbans and the endless lines of supertankers stretching around the world. One in every four of those tankers docks something like one every fifteen minutes somewhere along the American coastline to offload their sticky, fetid cargo. Worse, there seems to be a total mental disconnect between the turmoil in the Middle East, a guerrilla war in Columbia or the brutal murders of protestors in Nigeria, and the cheap oil to which America has become accustomed. Cheap oil that lets Detroit get way with building and selling adolescence machines at obscene profits, and damned the political, social and environmental consequences.

Thankfully, as I see it, there are still two automakers, both Japanese, that have the courage and vision to build better cars, minivans and, I suspect, SUVs. Detroit's short-sightedness and that of its corruption-ridden labor unions has only strengthened Toyota and Honda's technological lead, which is at least half a decade ahead of the United States.

Now that gap is going to get even wider because there is no incentive for GM or Ford or Chrysler to do any better. Like placing tariffs on imported steel, in the long run, Congress' actions are going to cost American auto worker jobs and America yet another market. Mark my words.

And don't expect any fuel efficiency improvements from NHTSA, the folks who ignored for a decade the horrible safety record of SUVs and under-inflated tires. This callous piece of political baggage from the days of Ronald Reagan has cost the lives of thousands of unsuspecting Americans. They might as well have asked the Sanhedran to pardon Jesus.

Almost apologetically, DaimlerChrysler's head of North American operations said this week in the wake of the Senate's passage of the Levin-Bond amendment that the industry now has a greater responsibility to build more fuel efficient vehicles.

Yes it has, Herr Doctor Zetsche.

Actually, its always been your responsibility. The trouble is, it seems to a lot of us industry watchers that no one in Detroit really gives a damn. You claim Americans don't want fuel efficient vehicles while spending billions to convince them they want your gas guzzlers, instead. You say Americans are safer in these big vehicles, which statistically is a lie. If it hadn't been for a courageous woman in Dallas and her attorney in Arkansas, we'd probably still never know the truth.

So, Herr Zetsche, you'll pardon us if we're just a bit skeptical.

For the past 25 years the auto industry has wanted CAFE thrown out and for all intents and purposes with Wednesday's vote, you finally got what you wanted. Now what are you going to do about it?

Believe me folks, I'd like nothing better than to eat crow on this issue. But short of a mass epiphany by Detroit's automakers and labor unions while stuck in traffic on I 94, I'd wager the chances of my eating crow are about as slim as the Cubs winning the World Series.

Just like that infamous trial two millennia ago, there is enough complicity and blame to go around for all. Carmakers and labor unions for using their wealth and power to stymie innovation, not just in fuel efficiency, but in a host of other safety and emissions improvements over the decades. Congress for allowing itself to be bullied and bribed by carmakers and dealership organizations, while handing out huge tax subsidies to the oil industry. And we gullible American consumers, for our environmental insensitive and myopic worldview.

"When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see you to it."

"Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children."

Sadly, it looks like it will be.

So, come on, folks. . . prove me wrong, please.

Times Article Viewed: 5613
Published: 16-Mar-2002

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