Autoworkers and emissions controls

A few posts back, Marc Lee was discussing the Harper government’s sudden discovery of the dangers of global warming.  He mentioned in passing reports that the CAW was opposed to the idea of stronger emissions regulations for vehicles.  In fact the CAW has been in support of the Kyoto process, Canadian efforts to meet its targets, and the principle of regulated improvements in fuel efficiency — so long as those regulations are implemented in a manner which does not place Canadian and North American-made vehicles at a disadvantage to imports.  The following recent op-ed by Buzz Hargrove in the Toronto Star hopefully sheds some light on the subject.  And for a more formal statement of the CAW view on emissions regulations, see:

Here’s the op-ed (“We can protect the environment — and auto jobs,” Toronto Star, October 12 2006):

Autoworkers are naturally concerned about the future of Canada’s auto industry. More than 80,000 CAW members work in auto, and for every job in a major auto plant, 6.5 others depend on that job through the supply chain. The financial crisis of North American producers, caused primarily by a one-way flood of imports into this continent, has us scrambling to defend our livelihoods.

But as citizens of Planet Earth, we are also passionately committed to an environmentally sustainable economy and auto industry.

That’s why the CAW strongly supported the Kyoto Protocol — including emissions reductions for automakers — and why we continue to press companies and governments alike to help build a greener automotive future.

Which brings us to last week’s surprise meeting between several key federal Conservative ministers and automotive leaders, where the government dropped a bombshell. It plans to impose mandatory emissions standards on automobiles sold in Canada.

We don’t know what kind of standards. But we do know that it’s being done hastily, motivated mostly by politics, and in the utter absence of any kind of well-rounded emissions reduction strategy.

What kind of mischief is the Harper government up to here, anyway?

After all, this is the same government that renounced Canada’s Kyoto commitments even as Environment Minister Rona Ambrose chairs the global Kyoto process — talk about putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

It eliminated the $3 billion Kyoto implementation fund.

Leading figures in the Conservative party still deny that global warming even exists. Are we really to believe they’ve suddenly had an environmental epiphany?

In reality, it’s all about political spin.

News reports indicate the Tories are ready to abandon their unworkable promise to fix the “fiscal imbalance,” and need something catchy to take its place in the lead-up to another election. Fixing their bad environmental image, especially if Ottawa doesn’t have to pay for it, is attractive. Taking yet another poke at Ontario may also be part of the master plan.

But this is no way to protect the environment — and no way to run the economy, either.

Automotive investments and engineering decisions are made years in advance. They can’t be turned around on a dime, just because Tory spin doctors have decided they need a makeover.

Passenger vehicles are an important part of Canada’s greenhouse problem; they account for 12 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions. Incidentally, that’s less than either petroleum producers or coal-fired electricity plants (and vehicle emissions have been growing more slowly than these other sources).

But the auto industry, and SUVs in particular, have become convenient scapegoats for a much broader problem.

The CAW fully supports the principle of regulated improvements in fuel efficiency for passenger vehicles, so long as they do not place Canadian auto production at a disadvantage to other jurisdictions.

U.S.-style “CAFE” rules, based on corporate-average efficiency targets, let Japanese and Korean producers entirely off the hook, simply because they produce, for reasons of history and geography, a smaller portfolio of vehicles. Anyone who thinks that these companies are somehow inherently committed to the environment should take a look at the monster pickups and SUVs now featured in their own showrooms.

What could work is a system which sets efficiency targets for each size and class of vehicle, forcing every automaker — not just North American automakers — to improve their own products.

Other countries, including Japan, do it that way.

With sufficient consultation and lead time, and with fiscal supports to ensure Canadian facilities receive needed upgrades in technology and product lines, better fuel efficiency could go hand in hand with auto jobs.

For example, investments in cleaner engines, such as clean diesel technology, could offset some of the jobs currently being lost at Ford’s engine facilities in Windsor.

Parallel incentives could get older gas guzzlers off the road, replaced by more efficient new vehicles.

Major investments in public transit also generate valuable jobs, so long as those investments incorporate “buy Canadian” principles — as Toronto and Montreal recently did.

In short, we utterly reject the notion that environmental protection and job security are contradictory. What we will not stand, however, is government playing politics with the future of an industry on which hundreds of thousands of Canadians depend.

If the Harper government is serious about greenhouse gas regulation, then let it sit down and negotiate a binding, comprehensive plan covering all industries, not just the scapegoats.

Let it put its money where its mouth is, with fiscal supports for green investments. Let it lend its support to implement the Kyoto accord as the previous Liberal government committed to do.

Why am I skeptical that this will actually happen?”


  • Thanks for this clarification, though I think my original comments in regard to CAW have been overstated. I was responding to the quote:

    “They certainly didn’t say we’re coming in with the California standards, so I feel a little better in that sense,” said Canadian Auto Workers president Buzz Hargrove, who was also invited to the meeting. Mr. Hargrove said matching California’s standards, which are more stringent than Canada’s voluntary targets, would be “devastating” for Canada’s auto sector.

    To which my comment was:

    “I’m puzzled as to why Hargrove is so opposed to the California standards. Did I not see Buzz at a press conference with Greenpeace last year pushing for a green auto industrial strategy? Would he buy in if the feds were to build a proper industrial policy around it?”

    This oped does not in fact respond to my criticism. However, the link provided suggests that the reason why CAW is opposed to California standards is:

    “[T]he market for new vehicles has been integrated across North America since the 1965 Canada-U.S. Auto Pact. Most of the vehicles we produce in Canada are exported, and most of the vehicles we purchase are imported. … And if we are asking automakers to do something in Canada that they are not required to do elsewhere in North America, then it will be incumbent on us to provide appropriate incentives and supports which will allow them to meet Canada-specific fuel efficiency targets – with a minimum of dislocation, and maximizing the economic and industrial opportunities to Canada that can be created by the evolution toward a more environmentally sustainable automotive industry. We must provide fiscal support to Canadian consumers purchasing advanced technology vehicles; we must unroll investment incentives which encourage automakers to produce greener vehicles and components here; we must take complementary measures (like increases in gasoline taxes) which will validate the decisions of consumers to invest in more fuel efficient variants within whatever vehicle class they are considering a purchase.”

    The latter part relates directly to my question about the need for an industrial policy. So why exactly was my comment off-base?

  • Thanks, Jim. That 2004 letter expresses the CAW’s position more clearly than did media coverage of Hargrove’s recent comments.

    The letter makes a compelling argument that ongoing increases in fuel efficiency within each class of vehicles through ‘innovation’ are more desirable than shifts from heavy to light classes through ‘consumer sacrifices’. However, it strikes me that these two approaches are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, we would achieve the greatest fuel savings by combining both of them.

    A recent Statistics Canada article shed some interesting light on this issue:

    “Fuel efficiency for both cars and light trucks has stalled in recent years. For cars (measured by litres needed to drive 100 kilometers), it improved almost 10% from 8.4 litres in the mid-1980s to 7.7 in 2000, but has since only edged down to 7.6. Meanwhile, the fuel required to power trucks actually rose from 10.0 litres in the mid-1980s to 10.7 in 2003. Together with the ongoing shift from cars to trucks and SUVs, (which rose from 36.2% of the fleet in 2000 to 42.9% in 2004), this lowered overall fuel efficiency of the stock of vehicles.”

    Although some people may need trucks for commercial purposes or to transport large families, it seems unlikely that these factors explain the dramatic shift from cars to trucks since 2000. Because fuel efficiency has not improved since then, this shift appreciably increased fuel consumption. If the substitution of trucks for cars continues, even quite significant improvements in the fuel efficiency of each class will not reduce fuel consumption per vehicle, let alone total fuel consumption.

  • Hi Marc & Erin

    Thanks for those insightful comments. I didn’t mean to imply that Marc’s comments were “off-base” at all — in fact, your linking of the need for active industrial policy with environmental goals is bang-on, and something the CAW has tried to emphasize in its own materials. I just wanted to clarify for the record (with the help of Buzz’s op-ed) that the headlines last week did not give the full story on the CAW’s position on fuel efficiency reg’s.

    Since I do not have a car down here in Oz this year, I am more than meeting my own “one tonne challenge” … but all that hinges on the greenhouse gas content of chardonnay.

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