[Posted by Karl]
The blogosphere was concerned with war-related issues during the past few weeks, but the federal leviathan grinds on along all fronts:
The government proposed labeling each new passenger vehicle with a letter grade from A to D based on its fuel efficiency and emissions, part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to promote electric cars and other advanced-technology vehicles.
The proposed new rules, released jointly Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department, would be the most substantial change in 30 years to the familiar price-and-mileage labels affixed to the windows of new cars at dealerships.
Currently, the labels must show how many miles per gallon a car gets and its estimated annual fuel cost. Under the proposed changes, a new label design would carry a large letter grade assigned by regulators.
Under the system, the only cars that would receive an A-plus, A or A-minus would be electrics and plug-in hybrids, the government said.
Even USA Today can see some of the problems with this proposal:
Why exactly would consumers want to accept some bureaucrat’s judgment about the best balance to strike between fuel efficiency and emissions? People’s priorities vary.
Assigning grades would be a departure from other government-mandated information practices. National Weather Service forecasts don’t come with value judgments. (Farmers might give a rainy day an A, golfers an F.) Nor do nutritional labels on food, or those useful new boxes on credit card statements showing how many decades it will take to eliminate your balance if you pay only the minimum.
In the case of cars, letter grades don’t necessarily reflect how a vehicle is used. An SUV that is consistently used to ferry around seven passengers can be more fuel efficient and traffic-friendly than a pair of sedans. So why should it automatically get a lower grade?
Indeed, why should green cars like the Volkswagen Jetta TDI get a lower grade?
Who benefits? Government Motors and their electric lemon, the Chevy Volt — “a vehicle that costs $41,000 but offers the performance and interior space of a $15,000 economy car.” Even in the Obama administration’s ill-advised (and thus seemingly politically-motivated) IPO, the US government is selling only enough equity to relinquish its controlling stake. That the EPA gives no weight to the purchase cost in its grading system tells you that the proposal is not about consumers making more informed choices. That the enviro-friendly Obama administration does not propose labels informing consumers of the environmental impact of the (typically coal-generated) electricity used to charge electric cars helps stack the deck further.
Of course, there is more than an exercise of shabby state corporatism at work here, as George Will noted last year:
For many generations—before automobiles were common, but trolleys ran to the edges of towns—Americans by the scores of millions have been happily trading distance for space, living farther from their jobs in order to enjoy ample backyards and other aspects of low-density living. And long before climate change became another excuse for disparaging America’s “automobile culture,” many liberal intellectuals were bothered by the automobile. It subverted their agenda of expanding government—meaning their—supervision of other people’s lives. Drivers moving around where and when they please? Without government supervision? Depriving themselves and others of communitarian moments on mass transit? No good could come of this.
In response, Obama Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood admitted that the administration was indeed interested in coercing people out of their cars. This is a long-term project of the Left, but in the short-term it’s a (tail)pipe dream. The archetypal soccer mom is still going to buy a minivan, because her family needs it. Farmers and ranchers are still going to buy their pickup trucks, because they need them. In this larger context, the proposed labels are not grades so much as sneers directed at those who have escaped the heavy hand of the big city government machines.