The CAFE system was imposed in 1975 as a response to the oil embargo, but America today imports an even greater portion of foreign oil than it did then.  President Bush Ratchets Up Atrocious CAFE Regulations 

President Caves to Environmentalists in Expanding Failed Fuel Economy Scheme

President Bush this week ordered increased Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, exacerbating an already-defective fuel economy program. 

This dramatically reverses several years of White House policy, which had previously issued studies detailing the negative cost/benefit consequences of CAFE mandates.  The disappointing announcement also indicates a surrender to hysterical environmental special interests but will achieve none of its advertised goals. 

Rather, the regulations will merely impose even more new burdens on the nation's beleaguered automobile industry and gasoline refineries, at great cost to America's economy and infrastructure.  Within the next ten years, carmakers will be forced to produce vehicles with greater fuel efficiency, and refiners must add more inefficient more expensive ethanol and other additives to their gasoline. 

Beginning promptly next year, the proposal mandates a 4% annual increase in fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks to 34 miles per gallon by the year 2017.  By comparison, current federal CAFE standards require that passenger cars achieve 27.5 miles per gallon, and light trucks must achieve 22.2 miles per gallon.  The regulations will also require an increase in renewable and alternative fuels to 35 billion gallons per year (from approximately only 5 billion gallons per year currently). 

As always, this government folly will result in even higher gas and automobile prices, as well as decreased auto safety, for consumers. 

The ominous nature of the President's proposal is perhaps best illustrated by those who applaud it.  According to Sierra Club Director Dan Becker, "right now, they seem to be saying things the right way." 

The more fundamental problem with the regulations, however, is that they simply don't work.  The CAFE system was imposed in 1975 as a response to the oil embargo, but America today imports an even greater portion of foreign oil than it did then. 

In addition, heightened mileage requirements have backfired on their intended purpose because consumers responded to greater fuel efficiency by driving even more miles, buying even more cars, and using even more gasoline.  Ever since the 1975 CAFE standards imposed mileage mandates, people chose to buy bigger cars and live in increasingly-distant suburbs from their workplaces.  Between 1990 and 2000, for example, the number of workers whose commutes exceed 60 minutes increased almost 50%, according to the Census Department. 

Consumers have also opted for the increased safety of bulkier models that are better able to scoot the kids to soccer practice, haul hardware store and remodeling purchases home and tow recreational trailers and boats.  Simply put, CAFE masterminds foolishly ignored the countervailing incentives that they created for consumers, and assumed that people would just maintain their driving habits and options preferences. 

Furthermore, increased mandates will do nothing to address the mythical "climate change" issue.  With worldwide economic expansion in places like China and India so frenzied, global greenhouse emissions will grow regardless of any miniscule reduction in American automobile emissions.  As it is, auto emissions only constitute 20% of total American emissions, which themselves are a small portion of worldwide manmade emissions, which themselves are a tiny portion of global carbon emissions compared to natural processes such as oceanic releases, volcanoes, methane from dying plants, live animals, swamp seepage and other non-manmade emissions. 

On the other hand, these mandates will put American auto makers at even greater competitive disadvantage, because Japanese and other foreign competitors will be better able to adapt to the new standards.  As it is, the American Big Three are hemorrhaging losses, shuttering manufacturing plants and laying off thousands of American employees. 

What a deal - more losses by the Big Three, more layoffs and higher gas and car prices. 

It is particularly disappointing that President Bush mischaracterized last month's atrocious Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA to rationalize his decision.  The Court in that case simply held that the EPA could either regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) or decide that it would not or could not do so.  The White House, however, inaccurately stated that "the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA must take action under the Clean Air Act regarding greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles." 

The Supreme Court's decision was abysmal enough, but President Bush should not attempt to duck responsibility by misrepresenting its ruling. 

Unfortunately, ailing automakers and gas suppliers simply present too soft a boogeyman, and feel-good environmental platitudes too easy a justification.  With the White House apparently surrendering, it is now up to American consumers and voters to resist this counterproductive policy before we suffer additional damage. 

May 18. 2007
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