New costs for auto makers — and consumers

Are gasoline prices really higher than at any time in America history?

In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy has long tracked the price of gasoline in inflation-adjusted dollars, reporting that — despite a surge during the “energy crisis” of the early 1980s — real, inflation-adjusted gasoline prices in America actually dropped slightly from 1960 to 2004.

The price of gold has gone up by a factor of nearly 20 in the past 40 years. If gasoline (selling for about 38 cents per gallon in 1960) had merely tracked the price of gold, it would now be approaching $8 per gallon.

So when California Sen. Barbara Boxer told her colleagues in Washington City this week, “Saturday night my husband and I were in San Francisco and we paused at a gas station and we literally couldn’t believe our eyes — $4.24 a gallon,” the proper response is not to ask why “greedy oil companies” are charging so much, but why Sen. Boxer and the other “greedy politicians” have blocked the construction of new refineries in California, blocked the drilling of new oil fields in Alaska, and imposed new costs on West Coast drivers by requiring so much expensive “green” meddling with our gasoline that even the DOE refers to the results as “boutique fuels.”

So, at the very least, are Sen. Boxer and her cohorts finally done with imposing disastrous and unnecessary new costs on motorists, fuel companies and auto manufacturers?

Surely you jest.

At a time when General Motors, Ford and Chrysler are still announcing plant shutdowns and thousands of job cuts, a Senate committee on Tuesday approved a plan to mandate an increase in vehicle fuel efficiency standards to an average of 35 miles per gallon — a whopping 40 percent increase — by 2020.

Make no mistake, if this measure passes — and it’s likely to come before the full Senate in June — it means your next car is likely to be smaller, less powerful, more expensive and more likely to kill you in a crash.

Mind you, no one is saying such vehicles should not be available to those who want them. But what the masterminds in Washington can’t stand is the idea that Americans might be left some free choice to decide their own trade-offs of fuel cost versus convenience and safety.

On top of everything else, the bill OK’d this week by the Senate committee includes a proposal from Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to create federal criminal penalties for “price gouging” at the fuel pump if the president declares an energy emergency. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., pointed out that the plan, approved on a voice vote, features an arbitrary definition of price gouging, creating “a new playground for lawyers.”

Furthermore, this bill could well close the “loophole” that has allowed the auto manufacturers to profit from the only sector where consumer demand has actually been growing — the Sport Utility Vehicle. Under the current proposal, medium- and heavy-duty trucks, including school buses, tractor trailers and large trucks used in construction would have to meet fuel economy requirements for the first time.

Domestic automakers and the United Auto Workers — didn’t that used to be an important Democratic constituency? — have warned the proposal would be unattainable. And Alan Reuther, the UAW’s legislative director, writes that the proposal would force manufacturers “to close more facilities, destroying tens of thousands of additional jobs and undermining the economic base of communities across this country.”

But what does all that matter, so long as the politicians get to claim they’re doing something to “reduce our dependence on imported oil,” as well as — you knew this was coming, of course — “to curb global warming”?

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