Skipping Rulemaking Process with Backroom Fuel Economy Deal, White House Opened Itself to Darrell Issa's Attack

Shana Campbell Jones

Aug. 1, 2011

Amy Sinden and Lena Pons explained in this space on Friday morning how the White House’s fuel economy deal with the auto industry bypassed the rulemaking process and the agency experts charged with determining the “maximum feasible” standard under the law. Late Friday, Rep. Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, joined the fray, promising an investigation of the process. (And we didn’t even know he was a reader of CPRBlog!)

Chairman Issa’s notion that the deal between the White House and automakers was too stringent is absurd, of course. But his stated concern about “the agreement’s lack of transparency, the failure to conduct an open rulemaking process” is absolutely correct.

There’s not much room for doubt that Mr. Issa’s real interest here is in weakening the fuel economy standards, and the administrative process argument is just the tool at hand.

But there’s a lesson here for the White House: By circumventing the rulemaking process in favor of a backroom deal, the Administration left itself vulnerable to Issa and others who will seize on any procedural failing to try to block progress on fuel economy standards. You follow the administrative process because you’re vulnerable to a challenge if you don’t. The irony is that the White House thought getting a deal with the automakers was exactly what they needed to make the plan a done deal. Darrell Issa is going to try to make the opposite the reality.

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