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Will New Energy Legislation Impact Independent Repairers?Posted 7/23/2007
By Robert L. Redding, Jr.
Energy legislation is currently stalled in the House and Senate, but there is general agreement that it is a complex task that will take a great deal of time and compromise and will eventually move forward. We must not forget that the Clean Air Act (CAA) Amendments of 1990 were the most comprehensive environmental initiatives in the history of the United States but took a decade to enact.
In the 1990 CAA Amendments, a battle between weakening automobile and industrial emissions and those interests that supported more stringent standards dominated the process. The Automotive Service Association (ASA) worked with House and Senate interests to obtain emissions service information legislative language during these proceedings.
In the House, Rick Boucher, D-Va., chairman of the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee, recently released a discussion draft to begin the process for the energy legislation. The draft includes language that will:
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has a bill that has had three days of debate on the U.S. Senate floor. Generally this legislation:
The Senate legislation stalled over a renewable power mandate. Corporate average fuel economy (CAFÉ) standards and new motor fuels are yet to be discussed. These issues will be at least as controversial as the renewable electricity debate.
Fuel economy standards were increased by the Senate Commerce Committee for passenger cars and light trucks to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. This will continue to increase 4 percent per year for 10 years. Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.; Christopher Bond, R-Mo.; and Carl Levin, D-Mich.; have proposed an amendment that raises fuel economy standards by more than 30 percent. The proposal has a floor of 36 mpg for passenger cars by 2025 and 30 mpg for light trucks by 2022. As for additional energy efficiency, $2.3 billion has been proposed for research related to automotive batteries and $60 million for the U.S. Department of Energy to research and develop lightweight materials for vehicle construction.
The House Commerce Committee is considering a standard of not less than 36 miles per gallon after model year 2021 for passenger cars and 30 mpg after 2024 for light trucks. The secretary of transportation will also be required to express standards in terms of average grams per mile of carbon dioxide emissions. Automakers will be required to produce flexible-fueled vehicles, and there are incentives for the production of advanced technology vehicles. Consumer education programs are also authorized to facilitate the use of alternative fuels, encourage consumers to use motor vehicles more efficiently and inform consumers about the fuel economy implications of replacement tires.
Both the House and the Senate are reviewing ways to expand the use of biofuels. The Senate Agriculture Committee and the Finance Committee are engaged in various strategies to improve energy fuel options for vehicles and communities. The House Agriculture Committee and Commerce Committee are pursuing similar policies.
Hovering in the process is the recent Massachusetts, et al. v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that gave the EPA the authority to set greenhouse gas standards for motor vehicles.
In the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments debate, ASA was most concerned that new emissions service information - a product of clean air regulatory requirements imposed on the automakers - would be made available to the independent repair community. The CAA Amendments included language protecting repairers. It took more than a decade and two separate EPA regulations to assure repairers the emissions service information needed. A subsequent ASA-Automaker Agreement provided the necessary non-emissions service information, training and tool information. Coupled with the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), much progress has been made with regard to service and tool information and training.
A couple of key issues for independent repairers will be products of the energy debate. Training will be one of the leading components for the successful future of the independent repairer. The congressional interest and amount of funds for research and development of new fuels, alternative vehicle technologies, and auto body components all point to vehicle technologies changing at an even greater rate than in the past. Ensuring that independents have the training to compete in the repair marketplace is critical. ASA will continue to work with the automakers and NASTF to ensure that this critical training is available to the independent.
One area that has frustrated ASA has been the lack of support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the expansion of emissions-testing programs. Despite court rulings and the increasing interest of Congress in air quality, the EPA has not served as an effective advocate for emissions testing and maintenance, and repairers have actually witnessed programs regressing in some states in the last few years. ASA has encouraged Congress to persuade the EPA to be proactive in expanding emissions testing programs.
Whatever the timeline for the new energy legislation, it will impact how the independent business repair model is structured in years to come.
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