President Donald Trump’s decision to slow the huge increases in fuel-efficiency standards put in place by the Obama administration in 2012 was met with derision and scorn by green groups, the big media and others on the left. In fact, it’s a wise move, one that will save Americans money, but more importantly, will save lives.
Trump’s action is perfectly timed. With the economy in turmoil from the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, automakers will not have the means to retool, research and revamp their car lines to obey President Barack Obama’s absurdly stringent rules. Auto sales are now plunging.
Obama’s rules would have required automakers to push the Corporate Average Fuel Economy from 25.3 miles per gallon per vehicle in 2012 to 54.5 mpg by 2025. To do that, fuel efficiency had to increase about 5% a year.
Contrary to complaints in the media of Trump’s “rollback” of standards, all the new rules do is reduce the fuel efficiency gains required to 1.5% a year, rather than the unreachable 5%. So the U.S. fleet average will be 40 mpg, not 54.5, by 2025. Even so, that will still be 28% higher than Obama’s rules.
More importantly, automakers strained to meet the Obama requirements, forced to radically downsize cars and create a money-losing electric-car fleet that still requires subsidies even to exist.
Of course, everyone likes clean air. But our fuel-efficiency standards didn’t start out with that as their goal. In fact, America’s fuel-efficiency standards got their start in 1975 as a way to mitigate the impact of the 1973-1974 Arab oil embargo. At the time, with oil prices surging, inflation raging and increasingly worthless dollars flooding global oil markets, it seemed like a good idea.
And the truth is, even before the new regulations went into effect, automakers were already raising their fleets’ fuel efficiency in response to the market pressures brought by a flood of fuel-stingy Japanese cars into the U.S. and rising oil prices.
Even so, as with so many other “good ideas,” this one got hijacked by special interests to become something entirely different: A way to impose a costly and wealth-destroying “green agenda” on American consumers.
It was part of a two-prong war against fossil fuels that continues to this day. The idea was to fight oil drilling and fracking in the continental U.S. on the front-end, while making cars prohibitively expensive on the back-end through ever-more burdensome regulation. It became a linchpin in the left’s anti-industrial, anti-capitalist agenda. A non-stop war on cheaper energy.
The idea gathered steam during the 1990s as the debate over global warming heated up. But it really gained traction in 2007, after a Supreme Court decision declared carbon dioxide a “pollutant.” A ridiculous decision, given that CO2 is a key and necessary part of the natural life cycle for both plants and animals. That includes humans.
Using that singularly bad high-court decision as pretext, Obama imposed his sweeping new fuel-efficiency standards on the auto industry in 2012, during his re-election campaign. At the time, he vowed that his move “to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions will save consumers more than $1.7 trillion at the gas pump and reduce U.S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels.”
Of course, oil consumption did fall in the U.S., not because of Obama’s new CAFE standards but because frackers made natural gas a cheap substitute for crude oil as fuel.
Now, the media talk of Trump’s “rollbacks,” as if fuel-efficiency standards were going into reverse. As we noted above, that’s not the case.
Meanwhile, little-mentioned in news accounts is the fact that not only will consumers save billions of dollars from this move, but thousands of lives will be saved as well.
For despite what the green left and its media allies say, the extremely lighter cars that automakers are required to build to meet fuel-efficiency standards are inherently more dangerous.
The big media are in total denial about this. In fact, the leftist media watchdog MediaMatters calls it a “right-wing lie.”
Truth is, multiple studies show that decreasing the size of cars to achieve higher fuel efficiency leads to more deaths on our highways.
Start with the Environmental Protection Agency, which ran its own numbers. It found a $2,340 total reduction in car-ownership costs by 2029 as a result of Trump’s move. All told, societal costs would be diminished by $500 billion over that time.
What does that get us? About 12,000 fewer highway deaths from all the cars that are made from now until 2029. That’s more than 1,000 lives saved a year.
A study by Harvard University and the Brookings Institution, which can’t be called right-wing sources of disinformation, concluded that for each 100 pounds lighter a vehicle is to meet CAFE standards, roughly 440 to 789 more people die in car accidents. That’s a range of 2,200 to 3,900 lives a year.
As H. Sterling Burnett, writing in The Hill, memorably noted, “As a result, CAFE has resulted in more deaths than all U.S. soldiers lost in the Vietnam War and every U.S. military engagement since then.”
A study by the National Academy of Sciences in 2002 concluded that CAFE standards were responsible for 2,600 deaths in 1993 alone. With current standards much higher, there is no question that deaths will result. Lighter, less-sturdy cars are deadlier than larger ones. It’s common sense.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an industry group that actually has a serious financial interest, concluded that “Bigger, heavier vehicles are safer.” Forcing automakers to shrink cars costs lives.
That’s a big reason why a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the new rules would reduce fatalities by 3,000 and add 2.7 million in new-car sales.
This, by the way, is why suburbanites and others who drive a lot prefer big SUVs to small regular sedans. The SUVs are not subject to the same regulations as the smaller cars, and afford more protection for families. They’re far safer in crashes. That’s a fact, not right-wing propaganda.
The added costs of regulation tack on car costs, too. Since the end of the financial crisis, car prices have jumped 10%. Meanwhile, car sales in 2019 were less than 1% higher than they were in 2005, despite 11% growth in U.S. population.
So while new cars have nice safety features, mostly thanks to technology, fewer people can afford them as a share of the population.
Obama’s original 54.5 mpg standard was a pipe-dream at best.
“There isn’t any realistic way carmakers can meet this requirement without radically transforming their product lines, most particularly by slashing vehicle weight and going to more expensive all-electric or plug-in hybrid electric drive technologies,” wrote Larry Bell, a University of Houston professor who writes frequently on energy in Forbes. “In fact even the most efficient hybrids on the market today won’t comply.”
Bell wrote that in 2011, and he was dead-on accurate. Trump was wise to throttle back the CAFE standards. At a time of economic emergency, he will save Americans money. More importantly, he’ll save lives.