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Freeze, reduce or eliminate CAFÉ fuel standards

By Paul Driessen
web posted June 11, 2018

Saying the air traffic controller work force was “too white,” the Obama Federal Aviation Administration allegedly replaced hiring standards based on science, math and ability to handle intense pressure with rules designed to increase racial diversity. It’s hard to find a more flagrant example of bureaucrats putting people’s safety and lives so low on their list of priorities. Difficult but not impossible.

Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards also play with people’s lives. Enacted in the 1970s amid fears of imminent oil depletion, the rules require that cars and light trucks on average across each manufacturer’s entire smorgasbord of vehicles must get better and better mileage over a period of years.

For the first few years, improving gasoline mileage was relatively easy. But as the standards tightened, car makers had to make vehicles smaller and use less steel and more aluminum and plastic to achieve the arbitrary mileage demands. That poses a serious problem that the Trump Administration wants to fix.

Bigger, heavier vehicles are safer, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has said for decades. Smaller, lighter vehicles are less crashworthy, less safe. Drivers and passengers in cars and light trucks are many times more likely to die in a crash – and far more likely to maimed, disfigured, disabled or paralyzed – beyond what would have occurred if the CAFÉ standards did not exist or had been relaxed.

Even with side air bags and other expensive vehicle modifications, smaller, lighter vehicles have less “armor” to protect occupants, and less space between them and any car, truck, bus, tree or other obstacle they might collide with. So they are less safe and more expensive – less affordable for poor families.

As Competitive Enterprise Institute general counsel Sam Kazman noted in a recent Wall Street Journal article, a 2002 National Academy of Sciences study estimated that CAFÉ rules had contributed to as many as 2,600 extra fatalities in 1993 – at a relatively lenient standard of 27.5 miles per gallon. Studies by the Brookings Institution, Harvard School of Public Health, National Academy of Sciences and USA Today all reached similar conclusions.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) covered all this up. Grizzly facts would not be allowed to get in the way of a well-intentioned government program.

Thankfully, the mileage standards stayed around 27.5 mpg throughout the 1990s and beyond. But then, in 2012, the Obama Administration began ratcheting the standards upward, with the goal of hitting 54.5 mpg by 2025. The Environmental Protection Agency had begun helping to manage the NHTSA mileage program in 2009, and it became the driving force for doubling the mpg requirements. It became equally complicit in hiding the death and injury tolls associated with CAFÉ.

Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking), other new technologies, and the discovery of new oil and gas deposits mean we will not run out of oil or natural gas for another century or more. So the Obama Administration asserted that mandating far tighter mileage rules would have the co-benefit of reducing tailpipe emissions of “greenhouse gases” associated with dangerous manmade climate change.

Scary headlines, data manipulation, computer models and well-orchestrated campaigns to link nearly every extreme weather event to rising atmospheric levels of (plant-fertilizing) carbon dioxide enabled the climate scare to get as far as it has. But the climate cataclysm movement is running out of gas.

People no longer accept claims that Earth’s climate was stable until the 1970s. They remember that it was a global cooling and global warming scare, before it became a climate change and extreme weather scare. They realize global temperatures have been stable for nearly 20 years, complying with Paris treaty and other climate edicts would cost trillions of dollars, and emerging economic powerhouses like China and India are not obligated or likely to reduce their use of fossil fuels or emission of greenhouse gases.

Despite $557 million in quiet funding by rich liberal foundations to wealthy alarmist groups, people are also figuring out that the Paris treaty actually has little or nothing to do with the climate or environment. “Climate change” is now used to justify replacing the capitalist economic model with a global governance system – and redistributing the world’s resources and wealth. The treaty itself says climate action must include an emphasis on “gender equality,” “empowerment of women,” “intergenerational equity” and “climate justice.” These are the “climate dangers” that supposedly justify lethal CAFÉ rules. 

Thankfully, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt recently proposed to re-examine the 54.5-mpg-by-2025 Obama EPA-NHTSA standards – and possibly freeze them at the pending 2020 level of 39 mpg. Mr. Pruitt noted that the standards had been implemented after years of lobbying by environmental pressure groups, and that assertions of climate and weather benefits do not reflect scientific or historical reality.

There has also been talk of revoking California’s unique right to set tougher standards than are applicable to the rest of the USA, and preventing the state from applying its more stringent mileage rules beyond its borders. EPA and Transportation Department officials say they have held “productive” discussions with California air quality regulators and others – but it’s hard to say where the talks might be headed.

The proposals drew predictable howls of outrage from environmentalists and California legislators and regulators, who are sticking to their claims that tougher mpg rules will somehow avoid climate chaos. An automobile manufacturers lobbying group insists that mileage standards should increase every year.

Auto makers would understandably prefer to have a single national mileage standard, rather than two: ultra tough rules for California and a less stringent mpg requirement for the rest of America. But the injury and death tolls dictate that any standard must be held well below 54.5 mpg or even 39 or 30 mpg.

Pruitt did not mention the injury and death tolls that result from these mileage standards. He should have, and his new plan to implement comprehensive cost-benefit reforms would compel his regulators to fairly, honestly and accurately assess the social and environmental costs and benefits of proposed mileage rules.

That would stand in stark contrast to the way EPA handled its arbitrary social cost of carbon analyses. The Obama agency looked only at alleged and exaggerated worldwide costs of United States carbon dioxide emissions – while totally ignoring the immense and obvious benefits of using fossil fuels. To compound the insanity, EPA claimed it could make reliable predictions three centuries into the future!

To support its various pollution control measures, the Obama EPA raised its “value of a statistical life” presumably saved by a proposed regulation from $7.9 million in 2011 to $9.7 million in 2013. The VSL estimates how much money people are willing to spend to reduce a risk enough to save one life. There is no evidence that EPA employed VSL to estimate the human cost of doubling the 1993 27.5 mpg standard.

The agency should certainly do so now. Using a $10-million VSL, $2 million per serious injury or paralysis – and 4,000 deaths and 50,000 serious injuries per year from a 54.5 mpg standard – would mean the average fuel efficiency demanded by California and radical greens would cost the United States $50 billion a year. In return, we would get small, purely speculative climate and weather benefits from burning less gasoline in the USA, assuming that tailpipe emissions play a major role in climate change.

(Applying similar cost-benefit analyses to electric cars would raise serious questions about the generous state and federal tax rebates, free access to toll and HOV lanes, free charging stations and other subsidies for pricey vehicles that only wealthy families can afford.)

Volkswagen’s deceit about diesel emissions defrauded consumers but didn’t kill anyone. And yet VW has generated far more regulatory, judicial, legislative and media outrage than lethal mileage standards.

As Ralph Nader might say, CAFÉ standards make cars unsafe at any speed – not by faulty car design, but by government decree. It’s time to reduce, eliminate or at least freeze these killer standards (and do the same thing with the ethanol mandates and gravy train). ESR

Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT,org) and author of articles and books on energy, climate change, carbon dioxide and economic development.  




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