A collection of 15 Republicans ó all former Members of Congress, governors or Environmental Protection Agency administrators ó called on the president Wednesday to set aggressive auto emission and fuel efficiency standards beginning in 2017.
"I'm just very passionate about the environment," said former Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), who spearheaded the letter to President Barack Obama. "We want the administration to know there are serious-minded Republicans who are well informed on the issue who urge him to take aggressive action."
Other former House Members who signed the letter were Michael Castle (Del.), who is now a partner with the lobbying and law firm DLA Piper; Vernon Ehlers (Mich.); Wayne Gilchrest (Md.); Benjamin Gilman (N.Y.); Amory Houghton (N.Y.); Connie Morella (Md.); Chris Shays (Conn.); Jim Ramstad (Minn.); and Peter Smith (Vt.). Former EPA Administrators Christine Whitman, Russell Train, Bill Reilly and Bill Ruckelshaus also signed the letter, as did Jim Douglas, a former governor of Vermont.
"The volatility of oil prices along with today's soaring price at the pump are a threat to our economy and national security," they wrote in the letter. "Reductions in fuel consumption could not come at a more important time."
Boehlert said he took the lead on gathering fellow Republicans after getting "enlisted" by Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign. "I was able to work cooperatively to get some Republicans of note to sign the letter," the former Congressman said.
Federal officials are expected to decide future fuel efficiency standards this year, and the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are at work on the issue. In their letter, the Republicans wrote that annual increases of about 6 percent through the year 2025 would be acceptable.
"We recommend that you promulgate aggressive standards for the 2017 to 2025 vehicles under a national program that will significantly reduce our oil dependence, cut pollution and fortify our economy," the letter concluded.
But some in the auto industry aren't buying their argument and have lashed back at the ex-officials' letter.
"There is clearly a special interest campaign to achieve a politically motivated fuel economy number that is not supported by the data," said Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which lists its members online as Chrysler, Ford, GM, Mazda, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen, BMW and others.
"Here, we are seeing former public officials sign onto a letter supporting a 100% increase in fuel economy. ... In effect, ex-officials have come to a conclusion about what the current data means before the current Administration has even finished analyzing it. This is not how good policy occurs," she said in a statement.
The Republicans' support for stricter fuel efficiency standards is in line with the positions they held in office, Bergquist added. "The targets advocated in this letter are not backed up by thorough analysis, which is still ongoing," she said.
Boehlert said the standards actually should benefit the auto lobby.
"For the business community, we're saying this will give some certainty to you so you can plan for the future," said Boehlert, who works with the Natural Resources Defense Council and is on the board of the League of Conservation Voters. "And we're saying to consumers that relief is on the way."