NBC News, CBS News failed to note Bush flip-flop on fuel-efficiency standards

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

Both the CBS Evening News and NBC's Nightly News reported that President Bush endorsed a proposal by Senate Republicans to grant the executive branch authority to set fuel-efficiency standards for cars -- a power that currently resides with Congress. CBS and NBC failed to note, however, that this move by Bush represents a significant shift for the White House, which opposed, as recently as February, increasing efficiency standards for passenger cars.

In reporting on the various legislative proposals put forth by members of Congress to address rising gasoline prices, both the CBS Evening News and NBC's Nightly News reported that, on April 27, President Bush endorsed a proposal by Senate Republicans to grant the executive branch authority to set fuel-efficiency standards for cars -- a power that currently resides with Congress. CBS and NBC failed to note, however, that this move by Bush represents a significant shift for the White House, which opposed, as recently as February, increasing efficiency standards for passenger cars.

As The Washington Post reported on April 28:

Congress has the authority to approve changes in mileage standards for passenger cars, and the executive branch can set them for light trucks without approval from Congress. But neither Congress nor the administration has shown much interest in raising passenger car standards, which were set in the 1970s and haven't changed since 1985. In March, the Bush administration said it would raise average fuel economy standards by 1.9 miles a gallon for sport-utility vehicles, pickups and vans for models in 2008 through 2011, a long-awaited move that environmentalists said was too modest.

At a BP gas station in Biloxi, Mississippi, on April 27, Bush said: "Congress is debating some other ideas. And one idea is to give me a capacity to raise CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] standards on automobiles. I encourage them to give me that authority. It's authority that I use for light trucks. And I intend to use it wisely if Congress would give me that authority." Bush was referring to one of the provisions in the Republican-proposed "Gas Price Relief and Rebate Act of 2006," which would give "the Secretary of Transportation the authority to issue a rule governing fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles."

Bush, however, had long opposed raising fuel-efficiency standards for passenger cars. The New York Times reported on February 6:

The difference on Tuesday was Mr. Bush's emphasis on alternative energy sources that he had not made a top focus in the past: better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, hydrogen cars, ethanol from wood and agricultural waste, solar and wind technologies and what he called ''clean, safe nuclear energy.''

The president's tone was so changed, in fact, that some analysts said he sounded like a Democrat. Dan W. Reicher, who served in the Energy Department during the Clinton administration, said Mr. Bush's ideas showed ''an uncanny resemblance'' to some Clinton efforts.

Mr. Bush's main departure from many Democrats and another source of resistance to his energy plan is his opposition to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars. Mr. Bush has also opposed any effort to impose a higher gasoline tax.

Nevertheless, on the April 27 broadcast of the CBS Evening News, anchor Bob Schieffer made no mention of Bush's apparent turnaround, but instead simply reported: "The president asked Congress today to give him the authority to raise fuel economy standards on all cars. He made the announcement while visiting a Mississippi gas station."

Similarly, Nightly News anchor Brian Williams reported on April 27:

WILLIAMS: President Bush mentioned those high gas prices, and after our interview, as if to underscore that point, he left our location and made an unscheduled stop at a gas station in Biloxi during his travels there today. He pointed out that high gas prices are the equivalent of a tax increase on working people in this country, and he asked Congress for more authority to require automakers to raise fuel efficiency standards.

By contrast, on the April 27 broadcast of ABC's World News Tonight, ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos reported that Bush's request for authority over passenger-car fuel standards represented "a pretty significant shift by the president":

ELIZABETH VARGAS (anchor): We turn now to ABC's chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos, and George, we had a bold move by the president a short time ago. He wants the ability to change the miles per gallon standards -- the so-called CAFE standards -- on his own, something he currently does not have the authority to do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's exactly right, Elizabeth. This is a pretty significant shift by the president. The administration opposed this kind of move as recently as when the Energy Bill was passed last August. It's something that Democrats and some moderate Republicans on Capitol Hill have been calling for, for a long time. They want to raise the current standard from the current 27 and a half miles per gallon up to about 36 or 40 miles per gallon. The president is now saying he wants the authority to do this on his own, the question will be: How high does he want to raise them? Will he go up to 36 or 40, or does he want something less? But this is a significant shift.

Posted In
Environment & Science, Energy
Network/Outlet
CBS, NBC
Show/Publication
CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News
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