The Obama administration has finalized the landmark 2017-25 fuel economy rules that will nearly double the efficiency of the nation’s cars and trucks over the next 13 years to a fleetwide average of 54.5 miles per gallon.
As reported by the Detroit News, the new rules will reshape what Americans drive — and may prod automakers to add fuel saving technologies at a faster rate. The rules also give automakers credits for building hybrid light trucks and adding fuel saving features that the government didn’t take into account in prior years.
The White House Office of Management and Budget said in a notice posted Tuesday (Aug. 28) morning that it had cleared the fuel economy rules on Monday.
The Obama administration initially planned to finalize the rule by July 31, but the final regulation has been held up by an extensive White House review.
Last summer, the Obama administration won the support of 13 major automakers, including Detroit’s Big Three, for the 2017-25 rules, which will cost the industry $157.3 billion, according to the preliminary proposal.
The price tag may change in the final rule released Tuesday.
Under the deal reached during months of secret talks led by former White House auto czar Ron Bloom, the Obama administration agreed to lower fuel economy increases for light trucks to 3.5% annually through 2021, while keeping the yearly hike for cars at 5%.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also agreed to a midterm review to ensure that the final four years of the program are feasible. California also agreed not to impose its own state standards.
In total, drivers will save $1.7 trillion at the pump, including the 2012-16 mileage increases that were finalized in 2010. That’s far more than the costs of more expensive autos. Society will see net benefits of $252 billion to $358 billion.
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Americans are growing more optimistic about the U.S. economy, a sentiment that is benefiting President Barack Obama despite public disenchantment with his handling of rising gasoline prices and swollen government budget deficits.
An Associated Press-GfK poll shows that more than 2 out of 5 people believe the U.S. economy will get better, while a third think it will stay the same and nearly a fourth think it will get worse, a rebound from last month’s more pessimistic attitude. And, for the first time since the 100-day mark of his presidency, slightly more than half approve of Obama’s stewardship of the economy.
Both findings represent a boost for Obama, though he still must overcome ill will over government red ink and the price of gas at the pump, now hovering around $4 a gallon.
But the public’s brighter economic outlook also could signal a boost to the current recovery, which relies to a great degree on consumer behavior. A public that is confident about economic performance is more likely to spend more and accelerate the economy’s resurgence.
The poll was conducted May 5-9 in the aftermath of the U.S. commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The spike in public esteem for Obama as a result of that successful clandestine mission may have helped Obama’s standing on issues other than national security.
The poll coincides with renewed attention in Washington to the nation’s growing debt and the federal government’s long-term budget deficits, so any positive signs from the public could help Obama push his policy proposals. A bipartisan team of lawmakers is working with Vice President Joe Biden to identify spending cuts. Meanwhile, lawmakers also are discussing major structural changes to the tax system and to the government’s mammoth benefits programs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
The results of the AP-GfK poll stood out because other surveys taken after bin Laden’s death, while showing a spike in support for the president, continued to indicate dissatisfaction by a majority for his handling of the economy. Still, like the AP-GfK poll, other surveys also found American attitudes about the state of the nation improving.
Forty-five percent of those polled in the AP-GfK survey said the country was now moving in the right direction, an increase of 10 percentage points from five weeks ago. And attitudes about life in general remained positive, with 4 out of 5 respondents saying they were happy or somewhat happy with their circumstances.
“Once you hit bottom the only one way to go is up,” said John Bair, 23, a photographer and filmmaker from Pittsburgh. “Everybody that I come in contact with seems to be on the upswing. I consider that a pretty good thing.”
For 20 months now, Ed Neufeldt has kept the photograph in his wallet as a reminder of a promise made but not yet kept.
The small, scuffed print shows Neufeldt standing next to Barack Obama on Feb. 9, 2009, the day the U.S. president came to this recession-battered slice of the American heartland and assured its anxious residents the economy was soon going to improve, PrimeMedia News reported.
“One of the first things he said to me was, `I’m going to get you back to work,’” recalls Neufeldt, a 64-year-old father of seven. “But I really don’t think he helped me get back to work at all.”
Neufeldt makes this statement more out of disappointment than anger.
Like many other longtime residents in this county of 200,000, located about two hours east of Chicago, Neufeldt had been counting on Obama’s $787-billion stimulus bill to jolt the U.S. economy into recovery.
Known as the “RV Capital of the World,” Elkhart became a symbol of the Great Recession when its signature industry was slammed by a brutal combination of economic factors in 2008 – $4-a-gallon gasoline that sapped demand for gas-guzzling motorhomes, a consumer-credit squeeze and a collapse in Americans’ discretionary income.
The local unemployment rate shot to 18.9% in early 2009 from under 5% in 2007, turning Elkhart from one of the most prosperous industrial areas in the country to one of its most desperate.
“It was dire,” says Dorinda Heiden-Guss, president of the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County.
Neufeldt was among the recession’s earliest victims, laid off after 32 years working on the assembly line at Monaco Coach Corp., a maker of high-end recreational vehicles.
He received six weeks in severance pay and then turned to unemployment benefits to support his family.
In all, 1,400 workers lost their job at Monaco – one of several companies to close its doors or slash workforces.
The economic carnage in Elkhart caught Obama’s attention even before he was president. He visited the county twice as a candidate while courting voters in Indiana, a traditionally conservative state that he carried in the 2008 election.
Obama has visited twice more since entering the Oval Office, first to plead for the stimulus shortly after taking office and then again in August 2009 to announce a $39-million grant for the production of electric delivery trucks in the county.
But almost two years after passage of the stimulus, the economic recovery remains uneven in Elkhart — with signs of hope tempered by ongoing struggle.
The county’s jobless rate has fallen amid a welcome upswing in the RV industry and the arrival of some “green” manufacturing jobs. Even with the modest surge in economic activity, unemployment stood at 13.4% in August.
“Consumption has been pretty weak coming out of this recession. Consumers and households have decided to hunker down, and I think they will remain hunkered down for a while,” says Bill Witte, an associate professor in economics at Indiana University Bloomington.
“That will have an impact on discretionary expenditures, which include things like great big RVs.”
In Nappanee, a town of 6,700 in southern Elkhart County, street signs advertise a food drive to aid residents struggling to make ends meet.
“I don’t think the recession is anywhere near being over,” says Larry Thompson, Nappanee’s Republican mayor.
“Even those who got their jobs back, they might be getting those jobs back at $10 less an hour than what they were making, and maybe their spouse, husband or wife didn’t get their jobs back at all,” says Thompson.
Debate over whether the stimulus worked — or is working fast enough — has dominated the political conversation here ahead of next month’s congressional elections.
Just two years after Obama won Indiana, Democrats are at risk on Nov. 2 of losing the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Evan Bayh.
According to a September poll by Rasmussen Reports, Republican Senate candidate Dan Coats is leading Democrat Brad Ellsworth by 16 points. In Indiana’s second congressional race — which includes part of Elkhart County — incumbent Democrat U.S. Joe Donnelly is in a close race against Jackie Walorski, a Tea Party favorite one local resident described as “Sarah Palin on steroids.”
“The stimulus is a hard sell to the guy that is unemployed,” acknowledges Democrat Dick Moore, mayor of the city of Elkhart.
“As people go back to work across the country, the first thing they are going to provide for is their needs. What we make here in Elkhart, Indiana, can be considered a want, not necessarily what you need. So we will lag a little bit.”
Still, Moore says the stimulus has provided a vital boost – launching infrastructure projects that are rejuvenating the city’s streets, schools, airport and municipal buildings.
He also credits Obama for raising Elkhart’s national profile – saying it has paid off by driving interest among entrepreneurs looking for a place to locate new businesses.
On a recent morning, the local newspaper reported a start-up recreational vehicle manufacturer was bringing 40 new jobs to Elkhart after receiving tax breaks from the local government.
Think, a Norwegian electric carmaker, has announced plans to begin North American production in 2011 in Elkhart, promising another 415 local jobs.
“We have been through a lot of these cyclical times with the RV industry. We have always survived,” says Moore.
Indeed, there have been other success stories.
Prime Time Manufacturing, a start-up company backed by investor Warren Buffett, has 125 employees and is producing three lines of recreational vehicles in facilities left vacant at the height of the recession.
Challenger Door, which supplies companies making RVs and transit buses, rose from the ashes of another failed firm. It has hired 120 workers in Nappanee.
“Three-quarters of the workers were actually from the old plant and out of work,” says Merlin Yoder, Challenger’s president.
Some local officials say new businesses are thriving despite the stimulus, not because of it. Other companies that sought stimulus funds are still waiting for the money to be released, says Heiden-Guss.
“This county, in particular, has gone around government in order to get things done. They are entrepreneurs,” she says.
Among some local businesspeople, there is grumbling about the administration’s decision to give $39 million in stimulus to Navistar, a large truck manufacturer that acquired Monaco Coach, the failed RV maker.
After Obama announced the money would be used for state-of-the-art “Made in America” electric trucks, it emerged that the first vehicles were largely assembled at a company factory in Coventry, England.
“It was a scam,” says Wilhelm Cashen, vice president of Livin’ Lite Recreational Vehicles LLC, a small local company that designs light camper trailers for Jeep.
“The government gave (Navistar) $40 million. They went to Europe and built the truck. They didn’t do anything here.”
Among critics of the stimulus, Neufeldt may be the most surprising. He gained national prominence after being asked to introduce Obama during his first presidential visit to Elkhart.
“I came away feeling he was really going to turn this country around,” Neufeldt says. He felt that way until about three months ago.
Still unable to find full-time work in the RV industry, Neufeldt now juggles three part-time jobs in the town of Wakarusa. He delivers bread to local stores, cleans the office at a local medical clinic and is helping Cashen with the launch of the company making Jeep trailers.
Neufeldt makes enough money to afford the $400-a-month premium to provide health insurance to his wife and two children who remain at home. But he can’t afford the extra $500 a month it would cost to obtain coverage for himself.
“It took me a year to get back to work. I didn’t get back in the RV industry. My first job, delivering bread, had nothing to do with the stimulus at all,” Neufeldt says, who recently attended a Tea Party rally headlined by anti-Obama broadcaster Glenn Beck.
“I think I just did it on my own.”
The recent White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors focused on the OBama administration reconnecting Americans to the benefits of outdoor recreation that will help draw more attention to the benefits of all types of outdoor recreation including camping, according to the ARVC Report from the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
Protecting and promoting great urban parks and treasured landscapes thus reconnecting Americans to the land through outdoor recreation drew strong support from leaders in the outdoor industry attending the White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors Friday, the report said. The Obama administration organized the event to tout a national conservation and recreation initiative as good for Americans and America.
According to the report, spotlighting the link between America’s Great Outdoors and economic recovery, President Obama said, “Conservation is not contrary to economic growth. It is an integral part to economic growth.”
The president pledged to get Americans active and outdoors and to “encourage young people to hike and bike and get outside more often.” And in support of active Americans, the president called for a “new generation of community and urban parks.”
The president said launching America’s Great Outdoors is “the right thing to do for our economy.”
“It’s how we’re going to spur job creation in the tourism industry and the recreation industry. It’s how we’ll create jobs, preserving and maintaining our forests, our rivers, our great outdoors,” President Obama said.”
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar emphasized the benefits of reconnecting Americans to the outdoors, according to the report. Public lands, protected areas, parks and open space promote physical and mental health enhance quality of life, build communities, attract employment; and support tourism-related jobs and a burgeoning recreation economy, Salazar said.
“Outdoor recreation and active lifestyles promote healthy Americans and build our economy,” said Sam Solomon, president of The Coleman Co. “Getting active and outdoors – biking in Central Park or camping in the Rocky Mountains – benefits people, families and communities,” Solomon said. ”The health of our industry shows that public lands and recreation are powerful economic drivers in cities and communities across America.”
The report states outdoor industry research cited during the conference validates protected lands and waters, and outdoor recreation as key economic drivers. “Active outdoor recreation, including hunting, fishing, camping, climbing, hiking, paddling, back country skiing, mountain biking, wildlife viewing, and other activities, drives a total of $730 billion in annual economic activity across the U.S. and supports 6.5 million jobs,” according to Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the Outdoor Industry Association.
Editor’s Note: Mike Stuckey, senior editor for MSNBC.com’s Elkhart Project, in this story updates readers a year after President Obama visited Elkhart, Ind., to lobby for his economic stimulus package. To see the entire package, click here.
One year after President Obama thrust Elkhart County, Ind., into the national spotlight by using it as the launching pad for his economic stimulus proposal, positive signs abound.
The region’s recreational vehicle industry, which was decimated by the recession, expects significant growth in coming years; businesses have announced nearly $400 million in new investments in the area; and the county has a fighting chance to become a leader in the electric vehicle industry.
But many locals are still watching warily for the only bottom line that really matters to them: new jobs.
Among them is Jeffery Ricks, 47, who last held down a full-time position as a welder at Godfrey Marine, an Elkhart manufacturer of small pleasure and fishing boats, more than two years ago.
“You know it’s going to be OK,” he said with a smile, “but the thing is, when?”
It’s a question that bedevils policymakers and pundits alike: When will the economy, which many indicators suggest is emerging from a deep recession, start producing new jobs?
At the local level, in Elkhart, political leaders believe the answer is soon.
“By 2011, this county is just going to explode with jobs and people,” said County Commissioner Mike Yoder, who has been working to entice new businesses to the area.
“Everything is full throttle,” said Dorinda Heiden-Guss, president of the Elkhart County Economic Development Corp., ticking off bullet points of hope for the county’s thousands of jobless workers.
The recreational vehicle industry, around which much of this region’s economy revolves and often seen as a bellwether for the nation’s fiscal health, appears to be recovering as many manufacturers rehire laid-off workers. A study done for Heiden-Guss’ group predicts 22%-plus annual growth for the next four years after a 74% decline in shipments since late 2005.
In 2009, businesses announced plans to spend $134 million to locate or expand operations in Elkhart County, creating a predicted 3,300 jobs.
Early this year, Norwegian company Think said it would spend $56 million setting up a plant to assemble electric cars, hiring 415 workers by 2013; and a new company known as Family Holiday Village Elkhart said it would build a $205 million European-style family resort that will create 500 construction jobs, 500 permanent jobs and draw a million tourists a year to the county within a few years.
It’s a big change from when Obama visited the city early in his presidency to pitch the economic stimulus plan. In his speech, Obama cited that fact that Elkhart’s jobless rate had tripled over the previous 12 months to more than 15%.
“We’ve got the best workers right here in Elkhart, who are willing to put in hard time and do whatever it takes to make sure a company succeeds, but they’ve got to have a chance,” the president said on Feb. 9, 2009, to hearty applause from his audience at Concord High School.
Not long after Obama’s trip, Congress passed a $787 billion stimulus plan. One year later, Elkhart’s jobless rate has fallen to 14.8% after hitting a high of 18.9%. The falling rate is due to some workers being rehired or finding new jobs but also due to some simply giving up, but it is still about triple what it was in boom times. Nationally, the unemployment rate is 10%, a stubbornly high number that has forced Obama to propose new incentives for companies to increase hiring.
Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder sees lots of new economic activity in the county, but he admits it may be a while before new jobs show up in large numbers. Elkhart’s Yoder believes it’s going to take time for people to see a difference in their individual working lives.
“There is still a lot of cynicism out there, and I sense this as we announce the incentives to pull these businesses in,” Yoder said. “People are saying, ‘That’s great but I still don’t have a job.’ It’s unfortunate that it’s going to take a while for these jobs to show up. That’s just the way it is.”
And “just the way it is” includes plenty of cold facts to temper warm visions of the future:
Despite Elkhart’s falling jobless rate, an estimated 14,000 local workers remain unemployed. IHS Global Insight, a consulting firm, forecasts Elkhart won’t return to pre-recession employment levels until 2039.
The median price of a home in the county has plummeted to late 1990s levels, below $90,000, and continues to fall. Sales in 2009 were down by 35% from 2006.
As jobless residents exhaust savings and unemployment benefits, social service agencies are facing more requests than ever for help. One, Church Community Services’ food pantry in downtown Elkhart, served a record 2,169 households in December, more than 24,000 for the year, a 21% increase from 2008.
Area residents are split on the impact of the president’s stimulus package and his visits — he made two as a candidate and two as president.
Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore believes the county’s share of the $787 billion in spending and tax cuts has generated thousands of jobs locally, both directly and indirectly. But an msnbc.com tally could only find a few dozen new jobs directly created by the $50 million in stimulus money that has poured into the county, much of it grants that school districts would have received anyway.
Elkhart artist Shana Dines, who attended two of Obama’s local speeches, sitting right behind him and shaking his hand at one appearance, said her family’s finances had been “in disastrous circumstances” as a result of her husband’s hours at an RV supply firm being cut.
Now, “things have picked up unbelievably,” Dines said. “They’re working overtime and last year at this time they were down to four days a week.” As a result, the family was able to get a mortgage modification and hang onto its home.
“I’m not sure how much of that was Obama, but because of where he’s come from, he knows what it’s like to struggle and he wants to see the common people survive,” she said.
Graphic designer Justin Graber has seen business improve at the Elkhart ad agency where he works, but he believes that Obama’s attention to the county likely had as much of a negative effect as a positive one.
“I honestly think if the government would just get out of the way and let us go back to work, it would be better,” said Graber, a founding board member of the Michiana 9-12 Project, a group inspired by conservative TV and radio host Glenn Beck that stresses family and religious values over government solutions.
“I know it’s well-intentioned, but the ups and downs of the economy are just as emotionally driven as they are by business factors, and I think people pull back even more when they worry about where this (stimulus) money will come from,” he said.
Angie Recchio, a sales rep with an Elkhart decal maker that serves the RV industry and also active in the 9-12 Project, agreed that the government should stand back.
“We’re certainly very grateful that things bottomed out and seem to be improving,” she said, “but I think the free market economy works and its cyclical and it would cycle on its own.”
Regardless of where folks stand politically, there’s an almost palpable sense of fatigue for having their community held up again and again as the poster child of recession. “Most people are optimistic,” Recchio said. “People are ready to stop talking about it and move on.”
Real estate agent Cory White agreed, even though as a specialist in distressed property sales, he does not believe the real estate market has hit bottom yet.
“I think we’re back on track,” he said. “I think the jobs are coming.” Locals are more focused on the positive now than the negative, he said. “Elkhart’s been known for being first in and first out of a recession. We’re on our way.”
Heiden-Guss, of the Economic Development Corp., said her organization was “grateful for the coverage, even though it was dire at many times. I will say the notoriety has kept us extremely busy, both good and bad. We’ve had a lot of interested parties migrating toward the money.”
But Yoder, the county commissioner, said the best prospects for growth and new jobs are with companies that were on the county’s radar screen long before the economy tanked.
“It’s not just because the president visited here,” he said, although “that didn’t hurt.” And, he acknowledged, “we are using elements of the stimulus package to help these companies along.”
Perhaps the most exciting prospect for the area’s future is the growing buzz that Elkhart County could become a hotbed of electric vehicle development and manufacturing. Joining Think locally in that niche are Navistar, which plans to produce electric delivery trucks, and Electric Motors Corp., which is developing hybrid pickup trucks.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has “identified Elkhart County as the new electric vehicle capital,” Heiden-Guss said.
And while it will take some time for those jobs to arrive, workers like Ricks, the unemployed welder, and his partner, Suncearay Shorter, are willing to wait it out.
“Nothing happens overnight,” said Ricks, who said she lost her job with insulation supplier M.A.P. two months ago.
“It’s hard,” Shorter said, “but we have patience.” Besides, she added, there’s more to life than jobs and money. The couple are expecting their first baby together in September.
“God is good,” said Ricks.
Editor’s Note: The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) provided this update on its centennial celebration in the current issue of RVIA Today Express.
RVIA hosted a webinar Friday (Dec. 11) to discuss plans for a year’s worth of celebrations marking the industry’s centennial year in 2010. More than 20 representatives of RV and campground associations and a phalanx of trade media representatives participated in the webinar, as RVIA Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Gary LaBella outlined RVIA’s planned events and encouraged the industry to take initiative in scheduling their own celebrations.
LaBella emphasized that the centennial celebrations will be a terrific way for the industry to demonstrate unity, and groups can also involve consumers in their celebratory events. “The Centennial is an industrywide celebration that will continue throughout 2010 – including at the 48th National RV Trade Show – and help lift the industry’s spirits as it draws positive attention to RVing, helping us stress a positive message about the industry to counteract the difficult economic conditions we have faced,” he said.
After reviewing details of the RV Centennial Media Tours scheduled for spring, LaBella outlined new events being planned for the centennial including RV Centennial Celebration Month, set for June. RVIA is working to have official proclamations issued from both President Obama and the Congress identifying it as such, and he encouraged industry members to reach out to their state and local governments to have similar proclamations made.
RV Centennial Celebration Month will be highlighted by RVIA’s all-industry party, being held June 7, during RVIA’s Committee Week and Annual Meeting, at the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart. LaBella reported that the party will be an evening event featuring videos to mark the industry’s centennial and culminating in the enshrining of an industry time capsule that will be featured at the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum for years to come.
In fact, the centennial will be a guiding theme at next year’s Committee Week, with events and speakers scheduled throughout the event. RVIA will invite President Obama, who has shown a particular interest in the RV industry, as well as other political leaders, to help celebrate with the industry and speak at the event.
LaBella also announced that a Centennial Mascot will soon begin a nationwide tour of retail RV shows and manufacturing plants. Show promoters and RV manufacturers, suppliers, and campgrounds will receive information from RVIA in January about how to include the mascot at industry events.
LaBella said, “I encourage all RV manufacturers, dealers, suppliers, campgrounds, owner groups and publishers to schedule their own celebrations on a large or small scale.” He urged them to visit www.RVCentennial.org for a treasure trove of free resources including an online message board that has been specially designed for the industry to facilitate an exchange of centennial celebration ideas among colleagues. The website also hosts the four-minute RV Centennial video, which members are encouraged to download and share, and downloadable centennial logos and images of antique RVs. LaBella encouraged the industry to use all of these materials in any way they wish.
The RV Centennial is an industrywide, year-long celebration to celebrate the industry’s rich history and promising future. The year 1910 has been identified as the beginning of the RV industry when the first mass-produced, manufactured auto campers and camping trailers– the forerunners of today’s RVs – were built.
President Obama will ask lawmakers for legislation boosting the maximum size of three types of Small Business Administration loans, the White House said Wednesday.
The proposed bill is part of the administration’s three-pronged initiative to free up credit for small businesses, according to the Dow Jones News Service.
In addition to the loan legislation, the White House will make it easier for small banks to provide credit to small businesses under the Treasury Department’s Financial Stability Plan.
The president also will call for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and SBA Administrator Karen Mills to convene a conference of regulators, congressional leaders and small business owners to establish further steps the government can take to help small businesses get better access to capital.
The SBA in July made guaranteed floorplan loans available to RV dealers, but few have taken advantage of the program because of the $2 million loan limit and financial institutions reluctance to participate.
The focus on small businesses comes as the White House begins to wind down other pieces of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama hears daily from small businesses struggling to get access to credit.