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The country is facing tough economic times. In the wake of the financial collapse in the fall of 2008, families across America were tightening their budgets. This already weakened economy is compounded by soaring gas and energy prices. In fact, an economist at the University of California, San Diego recently noted that 10 of the 11 post-World War II recessions have been preceded by a large increase in petroleum prices.

You might think the Obama administration would be looking at ways to help families reduce their energy costs, but you would be wrong. The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration are considering yet another change in fuel efficiency standards (also known as CAFE standards) that would increase the financial burden on Americans by imposing a hidden tax and put more than a million jobs at risk.

On Sept. 1, the EPA and the NHTSA will decide whether to impose new standards mandating a fleet-wide average of 62 mpg by 2025. Such a rapid increase would amount to a hidden tax on most cars, trucks, vans and SUVs in this country. By some estimates, this mandate of 62 mpg could increase the cost of a new vehicle by more than $9,000 by 2025.

That number could be significantly higher for truck owners. The 2010 Chevrolet Silverado now gets a very respectable 22 mpg on the highway. But how would the proposed increase affect the price of a truck? And just how much more can a rancher, delivery man, tradesman or farmer be expected to afford for a vehicle that he needs to earn a living?

As a buffalo rancher and owner of three trucks, I am very concerned this hidden tax would be harmful to the hardworking Americans who depend on trucks for their livelihood. These are tough times, and imposing unnecessary costs will only add to families’ hardships. Frankly, this move does not make sense. Automakers have been cooperating with the federal government to reach a fleet-wide average of 35 mpg by 2016. Despite a good-faith effort to work together to improve fuel efficiency at a pace that both improved efficiency and is economically viable for auto manufacturers, the bureaucrats are not satisfied. They are attempting to force arbitrary standards that will only drastically increase vehicle costs.

And who will be asked to shoulder the burden of these costs? The consumer will, of course. Government should instead continue working with the automakers to determine goals that are realistic and attainable.

President Barack Obama recently gave a major address on energy policy and said, “This fall, we’ll announce the next round of fuel standards for cars that builds on what we’ve already done.” Time will tell whether this means the president has already decided to go forward with arbitrary and punitive standards. It would be far more effective to ensure that auto manufacturers and policymakers continue to work together to determine standards that are realistic, limit cost increases and improve fuel efficiency. Cooperation has worked well for the implementation of the 2016 standards, and it would be unfortunate if this model were cast aside for political or ideological purposes.

The stakes are incredibly high. According to a study conducted by the Center for Automotive Research, raising fuel efficiency standards could have a devastating effect on jobs across the country. As many as 1.3 million jobs could be lost across the country, a possibility that should give the bureaucrats at the EPA and the NHTSA pause before committing to such drastic increases in CAFE standards. With unemployment hovering near 9 percent, this is not the time to roll the dice with so many jobs hanging in the balance.

The present standards of 35 mpg fleet-wide by 2016 reflect exactly that type of cooperation and should serve as a model to meet the twin goals of keeping costs down and improving the efficiency of our vehicles. The EPA has recently shown an alarming determination to regulate by fiat when the left’s environmental agenda stalls in Congress, and CAFE standards could be the next area where this trend continues. The hardworking people of this country that rely on their cars and trucks every day are counting on both sides to do the right thing. The last thing they need is Washington to go rogue and force a new hidden tax on their families.

Former Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-Colo.) served two terms in the House from 2003 to 2007.

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