Wash. Post car columnist falsely claimed "no gasoline" has been "saved" as a result of CAFE standards

››› ››› DIANNA PARKER

In a Washington Post column, Warren Brown claimed that "there has been no gasoline saved in response to ... the various iterations of federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy [CAFE] rules." However, a 2007 Government Accountability Office report stated: "According to estimates by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and other experts we consulted, the CAFE program has helped save billions of barrels of oil and could continue to do so in the future."

In a February 8 Washington Post column, cars columnist Warren Brown claimed that "there has been no gasoline saved in response to ... the various iterations of federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy [CAFE] rules." However, a 2007 Government Accountability Office report stated: "According to estimates by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and other experts we consulted, the CAFE program has helped save billions of barrels of oil and could continue to do so in the future." Further, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), raising the "fuel economy standards of America's cars, light trucks and sport utility vehicles to an average of at least 35 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2020, a 10-mpg increase over current levels," which is now mandated by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, "will save approximately 1.1 million barrels of oil per day in 2020."

In his column, Brown wrote that "[i]f consumers don't buy what the new political regime says should be produced, there will be no increase in the conservation of motor fuels, just as there has been no gasoline saved in response to what the media is fond of calling the 'strict clean air standards' of the California Air Resources Board, nor any saved in response to the various iterations of federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy rules." However, in the midst of the 2007 debate over proposals to increase fuel economy standards, the GAO issued a report in August of that year stating that "many experts have concluded that CAFE has helped save oil -- for example, a study by NAS estimated that in 2002 CAFE contributed to saving 2.8 million barrels of fuel a day, or 14 percent of consumption in that year -- and that increases to CAFE standards would contribute to future oil savings." The report also stated, "Experts, NHTSA [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] officials, and representatives from auto manufacturers with whom we spoke cited several strengths of the CAFE program" and added that "[m]ost of these experts said CAFE was somewhat effective in reducing fuel consumption."

Indeed, the NAS concluded in a study published in 2002 that "[f]uel use by passenger cars and light trucks is roughly one-third lower today than it would have been had fuel-economy not improved since 1975," adding that "the CAFE standards were a major reason for the improvement in fuel economy, but other factors, such as fuel prices, also played important roles" (p. 19). The study, done in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Transportation, was authorized by the U.S. Senate during its conference on the fiscal year 2001 appropriations bill, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Further, the UCS stated that implementation of the 35 mpg standard "will save approximately 1.1 million barrels of oil per day in 2020. That is half of what the United States currently imports from the entire Persian Gulf." The report added: "As a result, American consumers will save $22 billion dollars in 2020 -- after paying the cost of the necessary fuel economy technology. In addition, the legislation would prevent the release of more than 190 million metric tons of global warming pollution. That is the equivalent to taking 28 million of today's average cars and trucks off the road in that year."

From Brown's February 8 column:

If consumers don't buy what the new political regime says should be produced, there will be no increase in the conservation of motor fuels, just as there has been no gasoline saved in response to what the media is fond of calling the "strict clean air standards" of the California Air Resources Board, nor any saved in response to the various iterations of federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy rules.

It's the consumer, stupid.

The problem is that it's difficult for people who think they know better -- media and political elites -- to respect the rational economic intelligence, the will and the ultimate power of the consumer.

Earlier this decade, when more than 50 percent of the new vehicles purchased in this country were bought by people buying light trucks (pickup trucks, vans and sport-utility vehicles), media sophisticates and environmental lobbyists complained loudly, appealing to Congress to draft tougher federal fuel-efficiency laws.

When automobile industry lobbyists supposedly worked their magic on Congress to block that effort, environmental lobbyists appealed to the California Air Resources Board -- California being responsible for nearly 12 percent of new-vehicle sales in the United States -- to come up with clean-air regulations that would have the corollary effect of increasing fuel economy.

Posted In
Economy, Environment & Science, Conservation
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