Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Stepping Forward (and Back) on Fuel Efficiency

Today the White House performed the political equivalent of a two-step on fuel efficiency standards, announcing that while miles per gallon efficiency ratings for some light trucks and SUVs will be subject to a small increase by the 2011 model year, the way those ratings are calculated will change (opening a gigantic loophole which may have the effect of gutting the new regulations immediately).

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's (NHTSA) new proposed rule (all 169 pages of it) can be read here in PDF form. Its summary admits that "Conserving energy, especially reducing the nation's dependence on petroleum, benefits the U.S. in several ways. Reducing total petroleum use decreases our economy's vulnerability to price shocks. Reducing dependence on oil imports from regions with uncertain conditions enhances our energy security and can reduce the flow of oil profits to certain states now hostile to the U.S. Reducing the growth rate of oil use will help relieve pressures on already strained domestic refinery capacity, decreasing the likelihood of future product price volatility."

That's great rhetoric, which I fully support. But sadly, the rules announced today will probably not have much effect at all on the overall consumption or importation of foreign oil. While the major talking point today from the Administration is about the increases in fuel efficiency this proposed rule would bring about for mini-vans and light trucks/SUVs (from 22.2 mpg in 2007 to 23.5 mpg in 2010), what goes unmentioned is that automakers will be given the option to skirt those requirements by entering the "Reformed CAFE" requirement structure early.

Under "Reformed CAFE" (which might be better termed "Reduced CAFE"), automakers would be allowed to separate their fleets into six different size classes, each with its own standards for fuel efficiency (they're on page 10 of the rule). While mpg requirements for minivans and smaller SUVs would continue to rise under this scheme, the regulations for larger SUVs and pickup trucks actually have the potential to fall to below the average levels mandated for 2007. This provides automakers with an incentive to build larger vehicles with weaker fuel efficiency standards instead of devoting resources make their models more efficient.

Additionally, as I wrote last week, this proposed rule contains no provision for the establishment of regulations for gigantic SUVs like the Hummer - not even minimal standards. This omission is a serious one, leaving automakers free to continue building gas-guzzling behemoths. Sure, they only build them because people buy them, but I have always thought that corporations bear some social responsibility - a self-imposed ban by the automakers on the construction and marketing of Hummers and other tanks would hardly be a bad thing for the country.

Anyone can submit comments to the NHTSA via: their website, using docket number 2005-22144; fax to 202-493-2251; mail to Docket Management Facility; U.S. Department of Transportation, 400 Seventh Street SW, Nassif Building, Room PL-401, Washington D.C. 20590. I will be sending a letter myself, and would encourage all of my readers to do the same. Mine will call on the NHTSA to continue calculating mpg regulations for light trucks, minivans and SUVs on a fleet average basis with modest increases for each model year, and to include a Hummer/giant SUV rule in the final draft.

Dennis over at The Moderate Republican has a good companion post for this today, discussing the national security implications of driving SUVs. It bounces off a Fareed Zakaria column in this week's issue of Newsweek which urges increasing our fuel efficiency standards as a way to increase national security.

There is no rational reason for Americans to continue their feeding frenzy on foreign oil. There are many rational reasons to begin the weaning process. Real increases in fuel efficiency standards would be an excellent start.


At 7:24 PM, Blogger Phil S said...

Jeremy-You nailed it: a "two step"; saying something that sounds positive, but has no real meat in it. Just another smoke and mirrors effort by this administration!! As you have said on other matters-it is time for some real truth and substance from
this WH.

At 8:30 PM, Blogger J. James Mooney said...


Did you see the word verification option in the blogger login? It may help crack down on the spam.

At 8:38 PM, Blogger JBD said...

Ah, thanks for that - I hadn't noticed before but I flicked it on. I also re-allowed anonymous posting; hopefully with word verification that will work again. Good spotting!

At 9:11 AM, Blogger Mike said...

As the price of gas goes up, the market will shift back to smaller vehicles. I'm seeing more and more auto makers offering station wagons again and smaller cars like the echo and the Aveo are being built again as well. Here in Canada, I'm even seeign a lot more smart cars.

At 10:07 AM, Blogger Walter E. Wallis said...

From the start, the standard should have been ton-miles per gallon. Then we would have rewarded genuine efficiency, not bean counting.

At 2:01 PM, Blogger Mr Furious said...

I'm not surprised by any of this. It is exactly what one should expect from this Administration. I'm only shocked they didn't tag it with some clever, yet misleading, "Clear Skies/Healthy Forests" misnomer...


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