Bush Tightens Fuel Economy Mandates for Light Trucks

Published November 1, 2005

The Bush administration on August 23 announced the first significant tightening of corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards in 30 years. The proposed new CAFE system will subdivide light trucks into six different weight categories and will regulate fuel economy according to vehicle weight. By contrast, current standards group all light trucks together for CAFE purposes.

Under the new standards, each manufacturer’s light trucks in the lightest weight class will be required to achieve 28.4 miles per gallon by 2011. Each manufacturer’s light trucks in the heaviest weight class will be required to achieve 21.3 miles per gallon by 2011. The rules will apply to all light trucks sold in the United States regardless of where they are manufactured.

David Friedman, an automotive specialist with the activist group Union of Concerned Scientists, told Greenwire approximately 70 percent of all light trucks would be required to improve their fuel efficiency by 5 to 25 percent under the new standards.

According to Greenwire, environmental activist groups say the new standards will boost the fuel efficiency of light trucks by approximately 1.5 to 1.8 miles per gallon.

Seek Tighter Restrictions

Some groups oppose the new standards, saying the federal government should impose more stringent mandates.

“At a time when Americans are paying record prices for gas, the Bush administration has sided with its cronies in the auto industry and rejected real solutions,” Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club’s global warming program, told Greenwire.

U.S. Reps. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) introduced a bill on September 16 that would impose more drastic fuel economy mandates. In support of the proposed legislation, Markey and Boehlert cited rising gas prices and claimed more stringent fuel economy standards would curb demand and thereby reduce gas prices.

CAFE Called Futile Gesture

“Energy-efficiency mandates such as CAFE are usually justified on the ground that they’ll save us money in the long run,” said Sam Kazman, general counsel for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Pushing for more stringent CAFE is a feel-good measure that will have no impact on fuel economy or fuel prices in the near future.

“The fact that they’re being imposed on us by law ought to make one immediately suspicious,” said Kazman. “In the case of CAFE, the old argument used to be that gas prices were so low that consumers irrationally failed to give the issue a high enough priority. That argument is out the window now, since consumers are reacting to high gas prices much faster than CAFE could. In a sense, the less we need CAFE, the more shrill its proponents become.”

Consumers already may choose among numerous fuel-efficient vehicles when purchasing an automobile or light truck. Automakers currently offer more than 100 models that have EPA-estimated highway ratings of 30 miles per gallon or more.

Fuel Mandates Prove Deadly

“Regardless of whether you’re talking about old or new technologies, there’s an inevitable trade-off between crashworthiness and fuel efficiency,” Kazman explained. “Until CAFE’s proponents admit this, their sales pitch is inherently deceptive.

“In the longer term, CAFE is a deadly blood-for-oil tradeoff,” added Kazman. “Its lethal effects on vehicle safety were documented in the National Research Council’s 2001 study, which found that its downsizing incentive contributes to 2,000 deaths annually.

“The real purposes of reform should be to reduce CAFE’s deadly effects, increase consumer choice and design flexibility, and minimize the risk of new technologies introduced under government pressure,” Kazman concluded.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

For more information …

PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database, offers an extensive collection of research and commentary on corporate average fuel economy mandates. Point your Web browser to http://www.heartland.org, click on the PolicyBot™ button, and select the topic/subtopic combination Regulation/CAFE Standards.