Controversy Surrounds NAS Selection of CAFE Panelists

Published November 1, 2007

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is at the center of controversy for its selection of committee members charged with reviewing the nation’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.

NAS anticipates publishing by July 2008 an update to its 2002 report, Impact and Effectiveness of Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards.

NAS was criticized for packing its 2002 panel with members with financial incentives or a philosophical predisposition for developing new engine technologies. Even so, the 2002 report confirmed existing fuel economy mandates have caused between 1,300 and 2,600 additional traffic deaths each and every year since 1973.

The 2002 report also confirmed that for every 100-pound reduction in vehicle weight (the principal means by which fuel economy mandates are met), an extra 250 people die in traffic accidents each year.

Conflicts of Interest

The new, 14-member NAS panel is explicitly charged with reassessing the technologies, costs, benefits, and efficiencies examined by the 2002 panel. The new panel is given authority to fix any errors discovered in the 2002 report–but three of the 14 members of the new panel are holdovers from the 2002 panel.

As explained by Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast, “Three people–David Greene, Gary Rogers, and John Johnson–served on the original 2002 panel. Under NAS policies, these individuals would be reviewing their past work, and therefore have a conflict of interest and should not be allowed to participate.”

An NAS policy regarding panel members reviewing their own work states, “an individual should not serve as a member of a committee with respect to an activity in which a critical review and evaluation of the individual’s own work, or that of his or her immediate employer, is the central purpose of the activity, because that would constitute a conflict of interest.”

Advocate Lacks Expertise

A fourth panel member, David Friedman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, is drawing criticism for his lack of expertise. Even overlooking the fact that Friedman represents an activist group predisposed toward imposing stringent fuel economy mandates, “his qualifications fall well short of others on the panel,” Bast explained.

“As near as I can tell, he has never held an academic position, doesn’t have an advanced degree, and his ‘technical papers and reports’ are overwhelmingly published by the Union of Concerned Scientists and other similar advocacy groups,” Bast continued.

“The pro-CAFE side of the debate will be well represented by other members of the panel,” Bast said. “It doesn’t need a ringer–a professional advocate of higher CAFE standards–to make its points.”

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