Public Comments on the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration and Environmental
Protection Agency Proposed Rulemaking — the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficiency (SAFE) Vehicle Rule for
Model Years 2021-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks (SAFE Vehicles Rule)
Docket Number: EPA-HQ-OAR-2018-0283
Submitted by Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D.
Committee for as Constructive Tomorrow
October 22, 2018
Honoring Consumers’ Preferences and
Protecting the Traveling Public
The Trump administration’s plan to freeze corporate average fuel economy (CAFÉ) standards for five years and to revoke California’s power to set its own gas-mileage rules will bring much-needed reform to the antiquated Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards.
The NHTSA/EPA proposal allows the model year standards that must be achieved by each automaker for its car and light-duty truck fleet to rise to 37 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2020. That standard would stay in place for the model years 2021-2026. Under the Obama-era rule, the standard was set to rise to 54 mpg by 2025.
By making these revisions, the proposed rule elevates and ensures the primacy of consumer choice over bureaucratic mandates. Automakers now design vehicles to meet the preferences of bureaucrats rather than the needs of consumers.
In recent years, as gas prices have remained low, Americans have shown a preference for larger vehicles Data cited by the Washington Post (Aug. 3) show that Ford’s F-Series trucks are the best-selling vehicles in the United States, followed by Chevrolet and Ram pickups and a variety of SUVs. Further down are smaller sedans such as the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla. And further down still are electric vehicles.
In making these selections, American consumers are showing a clear preference for safety. Larger vehicles provide better visibility and greater protection in the event of a collision. A 2018 NHTSA study found that new model year vehicles are safer, resulting in fewer deaths and injuries when they are involved in accidents. By calling its proposed rulemaking SAFE, the administration acknowledges the importance of protecting the traveling public, which includes small children, the most vulnerable passengers in a vehicle.
EPA and NHTSA correctly argue that the current, Obama-era CAFÉ standards have contributed to the rising cost of new automobiles to an average of $35,000 or more. Compared with the alternative put forth in the Trump proposal, keeping in place the standards finalized in 2012 would add $2,340 to the cost of owning a new car. Even in our flourishing economy, this would price many buyers out of the market, or force them to purchase smaller, less-safe vehicles.
The California Waiver
Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the proposal would “create a 50-state solution,” a reference to one of the plan’s most far-reaching provisions. In 2009, the Obama administration, citing authority under the Clean Air Act, issued a waiver to California, allowing it to set its own fuel-economy standards and to establish a statewide mandate for electric vehicles. No fewer than 12 states, mostly in the Northeast and the Northwest, have adopted California’s tailpipe emission standards. Together, they account for about half of the U.S. automobile market.
The proposed rule establishes and confirms true federalism by removing California’s ability to dictate to consumers in other states what kinds of cars they should buy. No state should have this kind of power, either over the automobile industry or the driving public nationwide.
Reflecting a Radically Changing Energy Environment
Finally, the proposed rule is a welcome acknowledgement that the world has changed since 1975, the year that CAFÉ standards were enacted. We now live in an era of energy abundance, made possible by America’s growing extraction of oil and natural gas. OPEC’s stranglehold on global oil production and prices has been broken.
Furthermore, today’s internal combustion engines bear little resemblance to those in service when CAFÉ’s standards were imposed 43 years ago. The demands of competition will force automakers to continue upgrading their vehicles’ engines with respect to both emissions and fuel efficiency. Instead of relying on ever-tightening bureaucratic mandates, which can be cynically used by regulators, politicians, and pressure groups to favor one technology or product over another, government should step away and allow innovation to determine our automotive future.
The original CAFÉ mandate and the 2012 Obama rule are both relics of a distance past, one in which energy was thought to be scarce and only government mandates limiting consumer choices could remedy the situation. That era is thankfully gone, and the proposed rule reflects that reality.