Americans Could Pay for New Automobile Standards With Their Lives


An opinion/editorial piece published October 1995 by Bob Adams of The National Center for Public Policy Research


More people will die, environmental degradation will increase and jobs that families depend on will be needlessly destroyed if a regulation supported by the Clinton Administration -- and environmentalists -- is expanded further. Government bureaucrats are gearing up to toughen government-mandated fuel economy standards, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, for light trucks. The standard for these vehicles would rise from 20.6 miles per gallon to as high as 28 miles per gallon by the year 2008 -- a close to 40% rise.

Congress first authorized the Department of Transportation to set and enforce CAFE standards in 1975. Spurred by concern over the energy crisis of the early 1970's, CAFE was originally intended to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. More recently though, fuel economy standards have been championed by environmentalists as a means of reducing "greenhouse gases" alleged to be linked to global warming.

More fuel efficient and environmentally "friendly" pick-ups, mini- vans, and recreational vehicles sounds like a neat idea until one considers all the costs to consumers -- costs federal rulemakers and environmentalists have apparently ignored. According to study by Andrew Kleit of the Federal Trade Commission, consumers will end up paying as much as $11 for every gallon of gas saved if the proposed 40% hike in the CAFE standards is permitted to take effect. But these costs pale in comparison to the toll they will take on American families and the environment:

Contrary to claims by environmental groups like the Sierra Club, which proposes a 60% increase in CAFE standards, greater fuel economy will not lead to cleaner air. In fact, the reverse appears to be true: According to the National Academy of Sciences report, "[CAFE] improvements will not directly affect vehicle emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and NOx because the emissions standards (in grams per mile) are identical for every passenger car or truck, as appropriate, regardless of fuel." In other words, the amount of pollutants emitted from automobiles is based on miles driven -- not miles per gallon. By reducing the costs of driving, higher CAFE standards may even encourage people to drive -- and therefore pollute -- more.

Higher CAFE standards fail a cost-benefit analysis test because they would provide plenty of costs -- the loss of lives, jobs and environmental quality -- but few benefits. To approve these new standards would be to place a higher value on gasoline than the livelihoods -- and even the lives of the American people.

by Bob Adams - Bob Adams is Project Director for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs for The National Center for Public Policy Research.


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