Energy & Environment

Don’t let auto fuel efficiency standards go in reverse

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In a recent meeting with U.S. auto executives, President Trump hinted his administration will try to roll back America’s fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. 

This would be a profound disservice to American consumers, military men and women, and the environment.

{mosads}By 2050, a rollback on these standards would cost America nearly half a trillion dollars, add billions of tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and cause thousands of premature deaths. 


At their annual conference, U.S. auto dealers urged President Trump to ease federal regulation of vehicle emissions, and, last weekend, U.S. automakers urged Trump to review fuel efficiency rules.

Ironically, going backward on fuel efficiency standards could make America’s auto industry less competitive.  

Auto companies might like a rollback in the short term, but they would pay for it in the long run as other countries embrace efficient technology and innovative designs.

Indeed, the whole idea of softening these standards requires historical amnesia and an obsolete understanding of public policy effects.

First, the costs — fuel-efficient cars save consumers lots of money. With gasoline costing less than $2.50 today, it’s hard to remember how much Americans get hammered by inefficient cars when gas prices are high. Undoubtedly, gas prices will rise. 

Energy Innovation’s peer-reviewed modeling simulator shows a rollback on emissions standards will cause about $475 billion in increased consumer costs between now and 2050 — about $1,500 for every American.

The reason is simple — Vehicles that waste fuel, waste money. Meanwhile, new vehicle technology offers the same performance without the waste. 

The costs of inaction go far beyond the money pouring out of consumers’ pockets. America has devoted trillions of dollars and the armed forces have suffered thousands of deaths and casualties during military missions in the Middle East. 

Not all of this can be attributed to our thirst for oil, of course, but would we have gotten so involved in Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti affairs if those nations were not sitting on petroleum? 

Forty-three years ago, we learned the cost of letting other nations hold our economy hostage during the OPEC oil embargo.

Today, America is finally approaching energy independence due to more efficient cars and trucks and through expanded domestic oil production. Why would we go backward? Why not stop wasting those lives and dollars? 

The strategic risk of oil dependence is evident to the U.S. military: “There is the direct cost to our military of mitigating the risk of oil supply disruptions, a tremendous burden that we have been forced to shoulder because of oil dependence,” said former Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Conway.  “Oil dependence has a negative impact on foreign and defense policies because it distorts priorities and limits options.

“It also empowers hostile foreign actors,” Conway said. 

Let’s not forget the environment either. Reducing vehicle emissions saves American lives, agriculture, wildlife, and coastal cities.

America cannot solve climate change alone, but our car fleet is the world’s biggest and a principal source of emissions. Reducing gas consumption in the U.S. with new technologies makes a big difference. How big?

Our modeling shows rolling back fuel efficiency standards would send 5.7 billion tons more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2050, more than the European Union emits per year

Increased emissions would also cause roughly 1,500 more premature deaths per year in 2050.

According to one auto executive, strong standards make for strong companies: “Tighter regulations are a fact of life.  Back in the ‘90s we saw this as burdensome, but we now see this as an advantage,” former Cummins CEO Tim Solso said.  “If we have the advantage, either in fuel economy or emissions or both, we’re going to gain market share, we’re going to be able to enter new markets. 

“As a result, we secure employment and grow the business,” Solso said. 

If our public standards demand fuel-efficient cars, it gets them. Incredible technologies are waiting in the wings, ready for deployment, including advanced engines, lightweight but ultra-strong auto body materials, aerodynamics, better drive trains, reduced accessory loads, and more. 

For proof, read the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 1,200-page report on the topic, or the prodigious research upon which it was built.

Late last year, the EPA found manufacturers could meet existing fuel efficiency standards through 2025 with “conventional gasoline vehicles using internal combustion engines with well-understood technologies.”  

For further evidence, read about the advancements in Automotive Engineering. Visit some of the advanced auto factories, check out the Ford F-150 truck’s advanced lightweight body, or go to your Chevy dealer and take their Bolt for a test drive.

In 1975, Congress established fuel economy standards through 1985, and fuel efficiency improved for a decade. Then we stopped.

If America’s cars had continued on their previous efficiency trajectory, we would have saved more than $400 billion in gasoline costs from 1985 to 1995. 

The last time America failed to increase fuel efficiency standards, we helped bankrupt the auto industry as the Germans and the Japanese raced ahead with new technology.

That expensive mistake was wrapped up in a shortsighted excuse about reducing costs for auto manufacturers. 

Let’s not make that mistake again. The costs — to consumers, our national security and armed forces, the environment, and American industry  —are just too high. 

Let’s unleash American innovation, and win this one instead.


Hal Harvey is the CEO of Energy Innovation, a policy and technology firm that delivers research and analysis to policymakers on energy issues.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.  

Tags Efficient energy use Emerging technologies Energy Energy conservation Energy policy of the United States Fuel efficiency
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