FUELING FEARS


Are you worried about global warming? Think the abnormally warm temperatures and reduced rainfall being experienced by much of the country this winter might be the harbinger of more drastic climate changes in the near future? Troubled by how much oil we import every day from unstable regions like the Middle East?

Well, the U.S. Senate isn’t worried all that much. Less than a week ago, that august body voted 62 to 38 to turn aside a proposal sponsored by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ) to raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standard to 36 miles per gallon for cars and trucks by 2015. According to the Sierra Club, the average fuel economy of cars sold last year was 20.4 mpg, the lowest level since 1980. Had it passed, the Kerry-McCain proposal could have saved the country up to 1 million barrels of oil by 2016 – as much as the U.S. currently imports from Iraq and Kuwait.

Instead, the Senate voted to direct the Transportation Department to study the idea of raising fuel economy standards and issue recommendations two years hence. That proposal was co-sponsored by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Kit Bond (R-MO). They are, respectively, the #4 and #18 lifetime recipients of campaign contributions from the auto industry, at $133,250 and $48,939, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. (By comparison, Senator Kerry is #805 on the auto industry’s list, with just $750, and Senator McCain is #41, with $29,350.)

Never mind that the issue has been studied for years. Pay no attention to a recent report by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, which concluded that major improvements in fuel efficiency were feasible without reductions in car size, weight or safety. Senator Bond claimed tougher CAFÉ standards would have "forced farmers and mothers to trade their pick-up trucks and minivans for glorified golf-carts.”

The auto industry spent heavily to defeat any improvement in fuel efficiency. On average, the 62 Senators who voted with the industry to avoid any immediate toughening of CAFÉ rules received $18,600 from auto companies. The 38 Senators who wanted stronger standards received just $5,900.

All of this money was hard money—direct contributions to candidates. Since 1989, the auto companies have given $9.9 million to federal candidates and parties. Of that, $1.5 million was soft money and the rest was hard money contributions from PACs and individuals.

Produced by Public Campaign, a non-partisan, non-profit organization devoted to comprehensive campaign finance reform. Every day, we pay more as consumers and taxpayers for special interest subsidies and boondoggles because of our system of privately financed elections. It's time for a change.

Does this upset you? Go to HowDareThey.org to find out how your Senators voted, how much they got from the auto industry, and send them a personal message.