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DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY'S LEGISLATIVE JALOPY CAN BE STALLED.

Byline: Anita M. Mangels

EVEN as politicians hit the campaign trail boasting of their commitment to reducing government waste, the U.S. Department of Energy is quietly pursuing regulations that would force California taxpayers and consumers to pay for alternative fuel vehicles for local government and private businesses.

If the DOE has its way, we could wind up spending billions to support the federal government's latest unfunded mandate.

In a classic illustration of Washington bureaucrats' unshaken belief that they know better than local officials, businesses and taxpayers how to spend the latter's money, these unelected political appointees have come up with yet another boondoggle, designed to separate us from our hard-earned dollars.

That's right. The DOE is deciding whether to adopt regulations forcing local governments and certain private fleet operators to purchase substantial numbers of alternative fuel vehicles, known as AFVs, even if those purchases are neither practical, affordable nor environmentally effective.

Specifically, the DOE wants to require that 20 percent of all local government and many private fleet purchases must be AFVs starting as early as 1999, ramping up to a whopping 70 percent in 2005 or 2006 and thereafter.

It has been conservatively estimated this unfunded mandate will cost California taxpayers and businesses at least $4.2 billion - and it will do nothing to clean up the air.

The longstanding myth that alternative fuel vehicles - powered by electricity, natural gas, methanol and other sources - are light-years cleaner than conventionally fueled vehicles, has been repeatedly shattered by such unimpeachable experts as the California Air Resources Board, which has acknowledged that its $17 billion electric car mandate, requiring a 10 percent penetration of electric vehicles, will only reduce smog-causing pollutants by about 1 percent.

A new Carnegie Mellon/Georgia Tech study concludes that even ``an all electric fleet would lower peak ozone in Los Angeles by just 10 percent.''

And the September issue of Consumer Reports, which examined the impact of electric vehicles on greenhouse gases associated with global warming, concluded: ``The same improvement could be readily achieved, at lower cost, just by improving the efficiency of gas-burning cars.''

As for cost-effectiveness, AFVs clearly can't compete with their conventionally fueled counterparts. For example, the newly launched General Motors electric EV-1 will be leased based on a $34,000 sticker price and has a maximum range of about 90 miles, as compared to a GM Saturn SL, which has a 370-mile range and costs only $13,000. The higher cost of other AFVs also runs to thousands of dollars per unit.

Taxpayers are all too familiar with the astronomic costs and minuscule air quality benefits of publicly funded AFV schemes. Still fresh in our memories is the case of the Los Angeles MTA, which wasted millions of dollars on methanol-powered buses, only to have to convert them to different fuels after discovering that the methanol destroyed some engine parts.

And the South Coast Air Quality Management District is notorious for squandering millions of public dollars on marginally effective AFV programs resulting in such negligible benefits that in some cases emissions reductions can only be measured in terms of grams per decade.

If local governments are forced to spend their scarce taxpayer dollars on AFVs, which will not bring them into attainment with state and federal air quality standards, they will not have the money to support programs that do work. And to pay for these vehicles, they will either have to divert funds away from essential public services, such as police and fire protection, or raise taxes to cover the difference.

Similarly, businesses that are compelled to purchase vehicles they can't afford and can't practically use, will either lay off employees, raise prices or close down.

The California Manufacturers' Association, in a letter to the DOE, predicted that ``the proposed fleet mandate would drive American companies and jobs right out of the country.''

Mandating the purchase of alternative fuel vehicles, is akin to ordering doctors to prescribe expensive drugs that don't work, while depriving patients of time-honored cures that do. The disease will go uncured and both doctor and patient will develop a healthy mistrust of government. That kind of medicine is sure to eventually kill the patient.

Fortunately, there is still time to stop the federal government's AFV poison pill in its tracks. Interested parties can register their opposition to this unfunded mandate by writing to: U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Transportation Technologies, EE-33, Docket No. EE-RM-96-2000, 1000 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, D.C. 20585.

Written comments must be received by Nov. 5, 1996.

The best economic medicine for California taxpayers and businesses is less government-dictated spending, not more. The DOE should put the brakes on its unfunded AFV mandate before forcing California taxpayers and businesses to swallow a multibillion-dollar placebo.

MEMO: Anita M. Mangels is executive director of Californians Against Hidden Taxes, a statewide coalition whose members include the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, California Manufacturers' Association, Western States Petroleum Association, National Tax Limitation Committee, California Business Alliance and others.

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Photo: (Color) Road kill: How a high concept vehicle is jus t another unfunded mandate.

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Title Annotation:VIEWPOINT
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 27, 1996
Words:852
Previous Article:MEASURE FOR MEASURE : THE NATION ACCORDING TO STATE'S BALLOT INITIATIVES.
Next Article:EDITORIAL : APPLES AND ORANGES COMPARISON OF PRISON AND HIGHER EDUCATION SPENDING PROVES ONLY ONE THING: THERE'S TOO MUCH CRIME.


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