• Click here to watch the Lee Terry campaign ad on fuel-efficiency standards.
WASHINGTON — Another campaign ad from Rep. Lee Terry has drawn fire.
Critics call the ad a brazen mischaracterization of his actions and a group quoted in the ad says it was misrepresented.
The Terry campaign defended the commercial, which touts the Omaha Republican's work in 2007 on fuel efficiency standards for new vehicles. His legislation is known as “Hill-Terry” because he authored it with former Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind.
The ad opens with a powerful scene — an angry mob burning the American flag.
“We can't continue to rely on oil from hostile nations,” the voice-over intones.
The image then transitions to show Terry writing at a desk.
“Congressman Lee Terry authored the bipartisan law that helps move America to energy independence, cutting oil imports from OPEC by 584 million barrels a year, creating 241,000 jobs here in America and cleaner air,” the ad says.
Terry's campaign cites the Union of Concerned Scientists as the source for its numbers and displays a quote from the group that says: “Hill-Terry law: Historic.”
The group did call the bill that ultimately passed Congress “historic,” but they never tied that praise to Terry's proposal and the numbers cited in the ad came from a UCS analysis of a much different proposal, said Michelle Robinson, director of the group's clean vehicle program.
“It's historic fiction,” Robinson said of the ad.
Back in 2007, Congress moved to raise fuel efficiency standards for the first time in many years. The auto industry could see the writing on the wall and backed Terry's proposal, which would have mandated fuel efficiency standards go from 25 miles per gallon to 32 by 2022 and allowed them to rise to 35 mpg by that point. That was a less aggressive approach than various other proposals. The Senate had passed a requirement of 35 mpg by 2020 and the Bush administration had called for 34 mpg by 2017.
A bill offered by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., would have required 35 mpg by 2018. The numbers used in Terry's ad actually came from a UCS analysis of the Markey bill, according to a copy of the analysis.
Terry campaign spokesman David Boomer defended using the figures because they were based on 35 mpg, which was allowed under Terry's bill. He said the timeline shouldn't make any difference.
The Hill-Terry bill itself never moved, but a large energy bill was passed and signed into law at the end of 2007 raising the standard to 35 mpg by 2020. Terry was invited to the signing ceremony. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who chaired the House Energy and Commerce Committee, praised Terry and Hill for their work on the legislation.
Boomer said that shows it's fair to call the final product “Hill-Terry.”
Robinson noted that Terry's bill also included language that would have prohibited states from regulating fuel efficiency and would have undermined the role of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Her group opposed Terry's proposal at the time. They savaged it as “weak” and “bad policy” that included “feeble targets” for efficiency standards.
The group compared it unfavorably to the Senate version.
“Hill-Terry would increase U.S. oil consumption by 700,000 barrels per day — nearly as much oil as we currently import from Iraq and Kuwait, combined,” the group said at the time. “As a result, Americans would pay $14 billion more at the gas pump and emit 121 million metric tons of additional heat-trapping global warming pollution.”
Terry conceded that the final version of the legislation was different than his original proposal, but he said that's how the legislative process works.
“We also sat down and negotiated,” Terry said. “I guess in every negotiation you start a little higher.”
The Obama administration recently finalized new standards that are much more aggressive than what was enacted in 2007. Ultimately, the new standards would require 54.5 mpg for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025.
Terry rejected any suggestion that those new standards wipe out the relevance of his work because that is “certainly building off of what we did.”
And he also suggested that Congress might take a look at how far the administration is going with those new standards.
“We may have a hearing on this next year just to say, ‘Hey, how'd we come up with 55, and is that even technologically attainable based on what we know (about) the direction of technology today?'” Terry said.
UCS sent a letter Friday to Terry's campaign noting that they had been made aware of the ad and other related campaign materials.
“The assertions you make are wholly inaccurate and do not reflect the position or past statements of the Union of Concerned Scientists,” Robinson wrote in the letter. “I am writing to request that you immediately cease the use of the name of our organization, refrain from citing our analysis and materials inaccurately, and that you issue a correction of your statements.”
Boomer said Friday night that the campaign was reviewing the letter.
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