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sipping unleaded at the CAFE

By enelson
Thursday, May 3rd, 2007 at 7:59 pm in driving, Environment, Freeways, Safety, Security.

For those of you who are tired of hearing about the Maze collapse, here’s a little something out of Washington to chew on: A press release I received today from the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

It’s anticipating the unthinkable: Congress might actually force carmakers to improve fuel economy standards for the first time since I got my driver’s license:

Washington, D.C., May 3, 2007 — Members of the Senate will hear testimony today on the effects of the federal government’s fuel economy regulations, but will likely fail to address one of the program’s most glaring flaws: its deadly effect on safety.

While the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation hears testimony on the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules for new cars, it should consider, first and foremost, the tens of thousands of passenger deaths to which the program has already contributed. Unfortunately, many members seem to believe the myth that mileage regulations can be mandated without affecting safety. 

“With today’s high gas prices, CAFE could not be more irrelevant, because consumers are demanding greater fuel economy on their own,” said Competitive Enterprise Institute General Counsel Sam Kazman. “The fact that CAFE has become such a high-profile issue indicates that the problem is not consumers’ alleged addiction to oil, but rather the addiction of politicians to regulating oil. As for the notion that new technologies will allow CAFE to be raised without a lethal effect on traffic safety, that is nonsense, pure and simple.”

CAFE’s adverse impact on vehicle safety has long been established, and was extensively documented in a National Academy of Sciences 2002 study. Nonetheless, advocates of higher CAFE continue to gloss over the lethal effects of the current program, while at the same time pushing to make CAFE even deadlier than it already is.

In 1992, CEI won a federal appeals court ruling that the U.S. Transportation Department had illegally ignored CAFE’s deadly effects, which have been estimated to cause between 1,300 to 2,600 deaths a year. More information about CAFE is available online.

A short video summary of the CAFE debate, The Simpleton’s Guide to Fuel Standards, is also available online.

I’m somewhat tempted to say something about the subject of fuel economy and deaths, but I’ll wait to see what pops up in the comments.

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5 Responses to “sipping unleaded at the CAFE”

  1. Eric Says:

    Or let a single URL speak for you: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Fuel_efficiency_standards_and_the_laws_of_physics

  2. Michael Krueger Says:

    Speaking as someone with scientific training (I have a doctorate in physics, so I’d like to think I know a thing or two about Newton’s laws), I find the overly simplistic arguments employed by the likes of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to be intellectually dishonest to the point of being offensive. I was all geared up to launch into an explanation, but fortunately the link in Eric’s comment above provides a much more thorough and well-researched response than I could hope to write in a blog comment. I urge anyone interested in the topic of safety and fuel economy to read it.

    Even though I completely reject the argument that “fuel efficiency kills,” I must say that I’m not a huge fan of CAFE standards. If we assume that the goal is to reduce overall energy usage and pollution, mandatory vehicle fuel economy standards are an attack on the wrong side of the problem.

    One thing the Competitive Enterprise Institute actually has right is that it makes more sense to drive fuel economy from the consumer side than from the producer side. If you make fuel more expensive, and if you tie things like vehicle fees and taxes to fuel economy (as is done in Germany), then consumers will demand higher-mileage vehicles without having to place any additional government restrictions on auto producers.

    If you allow the price of fuel, taxes, and fees to remain very low by international standards (as is the case in the USA), then forcing an increase in vehicle fuel economy simply enables people to drive more. The increase in vehicle miles traveled can wind up erasing the gains from the increased fuel economy of the vehicles themselves.

    That’s what lead the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office to conclude that a gasoline tax would be far more effective than tougher CAFE standards at reducing energy consumption and emissions:

    The gasoline tax would outperform the CAFE standards because, while both policies would improve the fuel economy of new vehicles, the tax would produce greater immediate gasoline savings by inducing owners of both new and existing vehicles to drive less. In contrast, by making new vehicles cheaper to operate, higher CAFE standards would encourage owners of new vehicles to drive more (and would not affect the driving incentives of existing-vehicle owners at all).

    I know that gasoline taxes are a political third rail, but if we’re serious about doing something about climate change, they have to be on the table. Just fretting about things like Styrofoam cups and leaf blowers is not going to cut it. Sorry, folks, there’s not going to be a technological silver bullet or other easy answer to save us. Some tough choices have to be made, and it’s going to involve adjustments in our behavior, not the behavior of unspecified “others.”

    By the way, when I say “adjustments in our behavior,” I do not necessarily mean “reductions in our quality of life.” I firmly believe that we can become a nation in which people consume far less energy and natural resources than they do today, yet still lead happy, fulfilling lives. A big part of that is changing development and transportation spending patterns to allow more people to make more trips on foot or by bicycle, bus, or rail. When these options are truly viable, then living a lower-impact lifestyle becomes a pleasure rather than a painful sacrifice.

    All of this is not just some environmentalist fantasy; for example, most other industrialized nations already emit 50% or less carbon per capita than we do here in the USA, yet the citizens of those nations still enjoy a high quality of life. It can be done; it’s primarily a matter of finding the political will!

  3. Samatakah Says:

    Fear Tactic Alert! Fear Tactic Alert!

    If cars were smaller in general, then I wouldn’t get as injured when Joe Blow’s SUV crashes into my Honda Civic. And he would get better gas mileage.

  4. david vartanoff Says:

    outlaw airbags in low mpg vehicles

  5. Inside Bay Area > The Capricious Commuter > a convenient distortion Says:

    [...] problem, as CEI has complained before, is that the most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is for vehicles to emit less. To [...]

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