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Published: Sunday, 5/29/2011

Poll: Most back higher fuel-efficiency standards

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE COLUMNIST

Whew. A new label.

Sorry if I don’t sound excited about the new fuel-economy label the Obama Administration trotted out in Washington on Wednesday.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been working nonstop since I began delivering newspapers for the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press at age 14 in 1973 and even now, at age 52, I’ve never felt I had enough money to treat myself to a brand-spankin’ new car.

But I suppose this new label (see fueleconomy.gov) is a start.

We need to do more to address America’s energy crisis than ramp up the rhetoric. We need to use what we have more wisely, gasoline or anything else.

So these new car labels, which take effect in 2013, are really just about conservation and communication. Energy efficiency and education. And that’s fine by me.

What piqued my interest was a poll of Michigan and Ohio residents released the same day by Boston-based Ceres, a national coalition of investors, environmentalists, and people from other walks of life trying to combat climate change while protecting water. It was founded in 1989 in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

The survey by the Mellman Group — twice honored as “Pollster of the Year” by the American Association Of Political Consultants — found overwhelming support in those two states for higher fuel-efficiency standards by 2025, a requirement as high as 60 miles per gallon for cars.

John DeCicco, a faculty fellow at the University of Michigan’s Energy Institute and automotive engineer, said he believes average fuel efficiency as high as 74 mpg is doable.

It is important to highlight the poll’s focus on Michigan and Ohio, two of the leading states for automobile manufacturing — and two battlegrounds for the upcoming presidential election.

Eight hundred likely Michigan voters and another 800 likely Ohio voters were polled. That may not seem like a lot from states with respective populations of 10 million and 11.5 million, but I learned enough from my graduate-level survey research class at Ohio State University in the fall of 1991 to know that — done right — you don’t necessarily need huge participation. The data was collected April 9-12, when the national average for gasoline had fallen back to $3.79 a gallon after eclipsing the $4-a-gallon mark.

Among the findings:

  • Seventy-six percent of likely Michigan voters and 80 percent of likely Ohio voters said a national 60-mpg standard will spur more innovation. That, they agreed, would boost sales and protect jobs.

 

  • Fifty-six of likely Michigan voters and 59 percent of likely Ohio voters said they believe costs attached to increasing vehicle fuel efficiency will be outweighed by benefits.

 

  • More than two-thirds of Michigan’s likely voters with a household member employed by the auto industry support a 60 mpg standard. In Ohio, the percentage was 84 percent.

 

  • Eighty-seven percent of likely Michigan voters and 90 percent of likely Ohio voters said it is “important” or “very important” to pass higher fuel-efficiency standards now.


No group of likely voters had a majority in opposition.

The breakdown among parties was predictably greater among Democrats, with 9 out of 10 polled in both states favoring a 60-mpg standard, although about two-thirds of all Republicans polled also agreed with a 60-mpg rule and support among independents was halfway between that of Democrats and Republicans.

The Obama Administration is expected to take the summer reviewing plans for 2017-2025 fuel standards before releasing them in September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said.

A 60 mpg average fuel economy by 2025 would mean increasing fuel economy by 6 percent a year over the current 2016 standard of 35 mpg.

Ceres President Mindy Lubber said it “isn’t just $4-a-gallon fatigue.”

“Clearly, what we saw is that consumers want and need a broad range of fuel-efficient cars,” Ms. Lubber said.

For its part, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, quoted a blog entry from one of its senior fellows, Marlo Lewis, Jr., who questioned if sport utility vehicles are still with us because — well — people still like ‘em.

“Could that have something to do with the attributes of the vehicles — their size, safety, and utility?” Mr. Lewis wrote.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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