vehicle fuel standards

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.”