EPA fuel standards costly and ineffective

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed increasing fuel mileage standards for motor vehicles from the current 30.2 mpg for passenger car fleets to 35.5 mpg by 2016. Their rationale for this increase (so they say) is twofold: reduce carbon dioxide emissions and thus forestall temperature rise; and reduce our total consumption of petroleum products. The fuel standards will fail on both counts.

The proposed fuel mileage standard will have no measurable effect on temperature according to Dr. John Christy, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and Alabama’s State Climatologist. Christy testified before Congress last year on California’s proposed vehicle emission reduction of 26% (equivalent to a 43 m.p.g. standard). Christy’s research found that such a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions would have a theoretical temperature impact of “no more than 0.01 °C by 2100.” “…if the entire world adopted and adhered to this legislation, the net effect would be less than 0.04°C by 2100. As an atmospheric scientist who regularly publishes temperature records for specific regions as well as the globe, I can assure you this level of impact is too small to be detected. Global temperatures change by more than this from day to day.”

Added to that, there is evidence that better fuel mileage will not result in lower total fuel consumption. Department of Transportation data show that as automobiles become more fuel efficient, each car is driven more miles, so that there is actually no reduction in total fuel use.

Various estimates claim the more efficient vehicles will cost consumers about $1,000 to $1,500 more per vehicle and cost the auto companies $52 billion to comply. For 100,000 miles of driving, the new standards would save 495 gallons of fuel per vehicle. Depending on gasoline price, the owner may or may not recover the additional purchase price cost.

There is another consideration. The first vehicle fuel standards were imposed by the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act as the Corporate Average Fuel Economy program, better known as CAFE. We have seen since that time that the more fuel efficient vehicles tend to be smaller, and smaller vehicles tend to be more dangerous in crashes with larger vehicles. A 2002 National Academy of Sciences study concluded that increases in CAFE contributed to between 1,300 and 2,600 more deaths in a single representative year, and to 10 times that many serious injuries. A 1989 Brookings-Harvard study estimated that CAFE caused a 14 to 27 percent increase in occupant fatalities-an annual toll of 2,200 to 3,900 deaths. A 1999 USA Today analysis concluded that, over its lifetime, more restrictive fuel standards had resulted in 46,000 additional fatalities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that every 100-pound reduction in the weight of small cars increases annual traffic fatalities by as much as 715.

The EPA seems to ignore science and history. Is it blinded by a political agenda?

The cost of increased fuel economy standards is high in both money and lives, but it may give false comfort to those afflicted with “green guilt.”


  1. Department of Transportation data show that as automobiles become more fuel efficient, each car is driven more miles, so that there is actually no reduction in total fuel use.

    If this is really so, does this mean that the cost of fuel is the primary factor in determining how often and how far people drive their cars? 
    That would seem to be an argument for taking oil products out of the “free market” and artifically increasing the cost to reduce consumption.
    Considering the costs of fuel efficiency and reduction of dependence on fossil fuels, what price do we assign to the current mess in the Gulf? 

    You just place too much importance on the notion that, whatever we do, it must not interfere with the business of business.   Yes, in the short run, it’s going to cost money.  But it has to be done for so many reasons; not the least of which is that, as a finite supply that will become more limited with time, oil will become even more a source of conflict than it already is. 

  2. My uncle, now living up in Utah is a retired chemical and metallurgical engineer.  He has  been saying for at least the last two decades that he wishes the cost of fuel would go to Ten Dollars a gallon or more. That way people will be forced to seek out and use fuel efficient vehicles and possibly limit their driving as well due to the cost.  That may pinch a few people a little, but it’s not all that bad a notion in the final analysis and it will greatly reduce our dependence as a nation on foreign crude oil sources.

    I.M.O.,that would only be a stopgap measure as I believe we will all be running things on hydrogen gas(H2) in the not too distant future. H2 is absent all the pollution problems of petroleum based fuels, it can be obtained from water and when it burns it gives off water as a product of combustion. We are just waiting for technology to catch up with the obvious best choice. Currently, H2 is being produced from petroleum. This is counterproductive.  I have no doubt that the day will come when everything will be running off of H2. The water in the world is close to limitless, and water is also a product when H2 is burned.  That’s almost like having your cake & eating it too(A great liberal theme).  I eagerly anticipate the day when we can kiss all those Arab states good-bye, as well as Hugo Chavez and a few others.

  3. The cost of increased fuel economy standards is high in both money and lives?  This is such a poorly-argued and unsubstantiated article.  I’ve read more persuasive high school journalism. 

    1. Well Ron,
      I’ve cited material from a Ph.D. climatologist, the National Academy of Sciences, a Brookings-Harvard study, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration among others. That is hardly unsubstantiated. Can you offer a cogent, and substantiated, counter-argument?

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