House hearings on fuel-economy rule-making reek of hypocrisy

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DETROIT -- Republicans on Capital Hill are holding hearings on how the auto industry and the administration reached agreement on a new set of fuel-economy guidelines.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the regulation subcommittee, are demanding to know the how and when behind the agreement, ostensibly because the administration and the industry reached the agreement behind closed doors, with minimal public input. The late-July agreement sharply raised the fuel-economy target vehicles will have to meet.

Excuse me, but when did Republicans suddenly become upset by supposedly secret meetings between government and industry?

Where, I ask, were the two honorable representatives when the George W. Bush administration, under the stealth-loving leadership of Vice President Dick Cheney, met in private with oil-company execs to discuss what passes for an energy policy in America? The Republican administration refused to even release the names of the executives with whom Cheney met.

So it’s hard to swallow that Reps. Issa and Jordan are opposed to government and industry leaders meeting behind closed doors. What might be the real reason behind their ire?

Is it that this was a case of government and industry agreeing on exactly how much regulation is acceptable?

After all, the automakers signed off on the new fuel-economy rules in part because these would be nationwide rules. The automakers agreed on the understanding that California, New York and other states wouldn’t create a business-unfriendly hodge-podge of fuel-economy and emissions regulations.

Sorry, I thought Republicans were in favor of limiting government rule-making to levels that business could live with. Silly me.

Or maybe the real problem isn’t that the meetings took place, or that consumers’ voices weren’t heard?

My suspicion: Two members of Congress just can’t stand the idea that folks with different viewpoints sat down in Washington and managed to reach an agreement.

Congress can’t reach agreement on anything. Why should members of Congress stand by and allow anybody else to do so?

You can reach James B. Treece at jtreece@crain.com.

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