Talking Points on the Environment #10


When it Comes to Auto Fuel Efficiency, Environmentalists are Full of Hot Air


Environmentalists have called for increases in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard -- a U.S. regulation designed to increase fuel efficiency of U.S. manufactured automobiles -- as a means of reducing emissions of so-called "greenhouse gases" and reducing air pollution. But evidence suggests that greater fuel economy would have little impact on either air pollution or greenhouse gas levels.

There is no link between air quality and fuel efficiency. According to a 1992 report by the National Academy of Sciences, "Fuel economy improvements will not directly affect vehicle emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and NOx because emissions standards (in grams per mile) are identical for every passenger car or light truck, as appropriate, regardless of fuel economy."

Stricter CAFE standards could actually hinder efforts to improve air quality because those new technologies which hold the greatest promise for improving fuel efficiency are not as clean as today's technologies.

More stringent CAFE standards could also negatively affect air quality by discouraging the purchase of newer, more environment-friendly cars and trucks. Increasing the CAFE standard from its current 27.5 miles per gallon to 40 miles per gallon, for example, would add as much as $2,750 to the price of a car, encouraging people to continue using older vehicles.

Greater fuel efficiency would have little, if any impact, on greenhouse gas emissions. Vehicles subject to CAFE standards contribute just 1.5% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Raising CAFE standards would reduce such emissions by four-tenths of one percent. Further, higher CAFE standards could prove counter-productive. According to the National Academy of Sciences, "Greenhouse gas emissions from productions of substitute materials [used to improve fuel efficiency], such as aluminum, could substantially offset decreases of those emissions achieved through... fuel economy."

Even if increases in automobile fuel efficiency could produce net reductions is emissions of greenhouse gases, such reductions may be inconsequential. Most scientists do not believe global warming is occurring. A 1992 Gallup survey of scientists involved in climate research found that 53% of the respondents did not believe global warming was occurring and 30% were undecided.

Information from Coalition for Vehicle Choice and National Center for Public Policy Research's Dossier on Dr. Carl Sagan, August 31, 1993

Issue Date: June 29, 1994

Talking Points on the Economy: Environment #10, published by The National Center for Public Policy Research


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