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Emissions Order Might Spur Alt-Fuel Vehicle Sales

By Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The federal government could increase its purchases of electric, hybrid, and other alternative fuel vehicles under an executive order signed Thursday by President Barack Obama to further cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The White House announced that Obama signed the executive order cutting the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions by a total of 40 percent by 2025 compared to 2008 levels, building on a 2009 order which have helped reduce federal greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent already.

The new plan calls for reducing per-mile greenhouse gas emissions from the federal government’s fleet of 650,000 vehicles by 30 percent in the next decade compared to last year’s levels and increasing the percentage of zero-emission and plug-in hybrids in the fleet.

The U.S. Department of Energy and the General Services Administration did not immediately respond to questions from the Detroit Free Press about how many alternative fuel vehicles are in the federal fleet and how many have been purchased or leased since 2009.

The executive order called for agencies with 20 or more leased or purchased vehicles to ensure that by the end of 2020, 20 percent of all new acquisitions be zero-emission or plug-in hybrid vehicles. By the end of 2025, that percentage is expected to grow to 50 percent.

The order also tells agencies to plan for cutting unnecessary vehicles from its fleets and to put in place appropriate refueling and recharging facilities for alternative fuel vehicles. The order does not cover combat support vehicles.

What couldn’t be known is whether such a target would ultimately be met, given that Obama leaves office in early 2017, though it appeared from a Free Press review of GSA records that, at the very least, that agency had purchased or leased hundreds of alternative fuel vehicles in recent years while working to meet the president’s 2009 order.

Other parts of the executive order signed by the president included directing federal agencies to ensure that a quarter of their total energy consumption is from clean energy sources such as wind power by 2025 and that overall energy use in federal buildings is reduced by 2.5 percent a year.

The White House said the results of both federal government actions and commitments from private sector suppliers — including IBM, GE, and Honeywell — could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 metric tons compared to 2008 levels or, it said, “the equivalent of taking nearly 5.5 million cars off the road for a year.”

Photo: drpavloff via Flickr

GM Still Has Millions Of Recalled Cars To Repair, Investigators Say

By Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press

WASHINGTON — Two months after repair kits for 2.6 million recalled General Motors Co. vehicles began being shipped to dealers, the automaker has repaired only about 155,000 vehicles, though the company continues to maintain it will replace all of them on schedule.

Congressional investigators, releasing a memo Monday morning in advance of a Wednesday hearing on the automaker’s ignition-switch recall, noted that just under 400,000 repair kits have been shipped globally by supplier Delphi as of last Wednesday.

GM initially ordered the recall in February and later expanded it to include all model years of Chevrolet Cobalts and HHRs, Saturn Ions and Skys, and Pontiac G5s and Solstices. A defective ignition switch can be jostled out of position, potentially disabling air bags in the event of a crash.

Thirteen deaths and 42 crashes have been linked to the defect.

GM CEO Mary Barra will once again face questions on the recall from a House subcommittee at Wednesday’s hearing. Federal regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have fined GM $35 million for not turning over information years ago that could have led to an earlier recall. An internal GM report released two weeks ago by former U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas — who will also testify Wednesday — found the company missed multiple warning signs in part because of a corporate culture that discouraged the sharing of negative news and a failure to move pertinent information between departments.

In Monday’s memo, House investigators noted that GM “states that it is working ‘around the clock'” to manufacture the replacement ignition switches in the hope of concluding the repairs by Oct. 4. But it noted that only 154,731 vehicles have been repaired so far worldwide, 129,583 of which are in the U.S. While the memo made no comment on the speed of the repairs, at the current rate, fewer than 500,000 vehicles would be fixed by October.

GM spokesman Greg Martin said another line is being added to produce the parts and the company still expects to be done with repairs by October. Many of the models and their parts have been out of production for some time, which in part explains why it has taken some time to get the recalled switches produced in large quantities.

In the past 2 months, congressional investigators have received more than 1 million pages of documents from GM and 15,000 from NHTSA, who has come under scrutiny for not ordering a recall sooner. At the subcommittee’s first hearing in April, Barra declined to answer many questions, saying she would wait until Valukas finished his report.

The subcommittee memo said members are expected to ask whether the Valukas report marks the end of GM’s internal investigation of why the defect wasn’t caught sooner; and what needs to be done to change the corporate culture at GM.

After the Valukas report was released, Barra fired 15 GM employees and took disciplinary action against five others.

AFP Photo/Mark Ralston

Michigan’s Rep. Camp Won’t Run For Re-Election

By Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican who has in recent years chaired the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, will not seek re-election this year, adding to the growing number of Michigan members of Congress heading toward the exits.

Camp, 60, made the announcement official Monday, saying the decision was “reached after much consideration and discussion with my family.” He did not give a reason for the decision.

In recent years, Camp has been a fervent proponent of changing and simplifying the U.S. tax code, but there seemed to be little enthusiasm for making such a change in advance of the midterm elections. Because of House Republican rules, Camp will be forced to step down as Ways and Means chairman at the end of this year. He became chairman in 2011.

He has been in Congress since 1991 and joins a list that includes U.S. Sen Carl Levin and U.S. Rep. John Dingell of Dearborn, both Democrats, and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Howell, who have announced they won’t run for re-election this year.

Like Rogers, Camp is a key ally of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who noted Monday that he was elected to Congress the same year as Camp. Boehner said from the start, he had been “impressed by (Camp’s) wisdom and thoughtfulness and grateful for his friendship.”

Camp, in a statement announcing he would step down at the end of his term, said: “Serving in Congress is the great honor of my professional life. I am deeply grateful to the people of the 4th Congressional District for placing their trust in me. Over the years, their unwavering support has been a source of strength, purpose and inspiration.”

In 2012, Camp battled non-Hodgkins lymphoma and was later pronounced cancer-free.

“During the next nine months, I will redouble my efforts to grow our economy and expand opportunity for every American by fixing our broken tax code, permanently solving physician payments for seniors, strengthening the social safety net and finding new markets for U.S. goods and services,” he said.

Prior to running for Congress himself, Camp was campaign manager for his boyhood friend, Bill Schuette, who ran successfully to represent the district in 1984. Camp stayed in his office for two years before serving a term in the state House himself.

When Schuette — now state attorney general — ran unsuccessfully to replace Levin in 1990, Camp replaced him in Congress. Talking of Camp Monday, Schuette — who said Camp told him his decision earlier in the day — said “the House will miss him.”

“I just think he said, ‘OK, it’s new career time,’” Schuette said.

Gov. Rick Snyder said the state would miss Camp’s “steady leadership.”

Camp, who has an easygoing, friendly demeanor, has long been known as a bridge-builder in the Michigan delegation, and even though he has been chairman of one of the House’s most powerful committees during a time of extreme partisanship, he was more of a policy wonk than a fire-breathing conservative.

Known for his expertise on tax and trade issues — both of which fall under the committee’s purview — Camp joined former Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, on a barnstorming tour last year to push tax reform.

But when Camp unveiled his sweeping, 979-page discussion draft in February and suggested it was time to lead to slaughter some sacred cows — like the deduction of interest on education loans or the deduction on mortgage interest for homes costing up to $1 million — to spark job growth, the proposal met with a Republican caucus unwilling to commit to such a change this year.

It called for flattening individual rates, collapsing seven current brackets to just two and cutting the corporate rate from a top rate of 35 percent to 25 percent, among many other provisions.

Tax and trade policy weren’t Camp’s only passions, however. He has long been a proponent of making adoptions more streamlined and accessible to help move children from foster homes to adoptive ones. He wrote laws that helped facilitate international adoptions and created financial incentives for states that encourage the adoption of older children.

As happened last Friday when Rogers — who had been in Congress since 2001 — announced he was leaving at the end of this term, Camp’s departure may put his party in a bit of a bind: Candidates wishing to appear on the August primary ballot must file candidacy paperwork and 1,000 petition signatures by 4 p.m. April 22.

The district — which is composed larger of the central lower peninsula — is reliably Republican, however, and Camp, if he chose to, could be a financial asset if he chose to be, with $3.4 million in his campaign fund as of the end of 2013.

State Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostak wasn’t worried about holding onto the district.

“We have a deep bench of leaders in our party who will continue Congressman Camp’s legacy of tirelessly working on behalf of Michigan families,” he said. “I’m certain we will retain Congressman Camp’s seat this fall.”

Bill Ballenger, of the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics, said while he was surprised at the timing, it’s not hard to understand why Camp would leave.

“If you’re going to look at making real money in the private sector his window is almost closed,” Ballenger said.

Among the names being prominently mentioned as a possible candidate is state Sen. John Moolenaar (R-Midland), who chairs the Veterans, Military Affairs and Homeland Security Committee and serves as vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Other potential names being mentioned among Republicans include state Sens. Roger Kahn of Saginaw Township, state Rep. Kevin Cotter of Mt. Pleasant; state Rep. Jim Stamas of Midland and former state Rep. Tony Stamas of Midland.

Potential Democratic names being mentioned are former U.S. Rep. Jim Barcia of Bay City, Bay County Executive tom Hickner and former state Sen. Joel Sheltrown of West Branch.

“This is such a rare opportunity that a lot of people will be considering this,” said political consultant Stu Sandler.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph), who is chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Michigan was losing an outstanding congressman, one who said had “a long record in support of jobs and improving the nation’s economy in everything he touched.”

“I will genuinely miss the strong partnership we had with the unprecedented privilege of Dave at the helm of the Ways and Means Committee and me with the Energy and Commerce Committee,” Upton said.

vpickering via Flickr