Fuel standards to prevent overdependence on foreign oil are out of date

The Trump administration is trying to strike a blow for rational and honest government, so you know it’s getting a lot of pushback.

President TrumpDonald TrumpClyburn says he's worried about losing House, 'losing this democracy' Sinema reignites 2024 primary chatter amid filibuster fight  Why not a Manchin-DeSantis ticket for 2024? MORE wants to roll back unattainable Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards imposed by President Obama. And he wants those revised fuel efficiency ratings to apply nationwide, including California, according to The Hill. But environmentalists and the Golden State are rejecting the change. They prefer to live the “impossible dream.”


The original CAFE standards, which regulate car and light truck fuel economy, were passed by Congress in 1975, following the Arab oil embargo. The embargo exposed the vulnerability of a United States too dependent on other countries for oil. 

Congress’s goal was to push carmakers toward more fuel-efficient cars so the U.S. would be less dependent on countries that might use crude oil as a political hammer. But like so many worthy policy goals, politics soon began to drive the agenda. 

Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency oversee the program, which regulates “how far vehicles must travel on a gallon of fuel.”

Arriving at the estimated miles per gallon for cars and light trucks is complicated — and many are skeptical of the process. A 2015 AAA survey found that one-third of Americans do not believe a particular car’s mpg rating.

However, the Obama administration saw increasing current CAFE standards as a political opportunity, as well as an environmental statement. So, Obama dramatically and arbitrarily raised the fuel efficiency ratings. 

The White House boasted in its August, 2012, announcement: “The Obama Administration today finalized groundbreaking standards that will increase fuel economy to the equivalent of 54.5 mpg for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025.”

“These fuel standards represent the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” the Obama said of the regulation.

However, the invention and application of innovative drilling techniques such as fracking and horizontal drilling have been the single most important step ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. U.S. crude oil production has more than doubled over the past decade, thanks in large part to fracking.

As a result, other countries are increasingly dependent on the U.S. for their oil and natural gas.

Obama also claimed, “This historic agreement builds on the progress we’ve already made to save families money at the pump and cut our oil consumption.” 

In reality, gasoline and natural gas prices are very low because supplies are so abundant. And gasoline consumption has increased significantly since Obama raised the standards.

Obama also said, “by the middle of the next decade our cars will get nearly 55 miles per gallon, almost double what they get today.”

Yet, we’re nowhere close to hitting 55 miles per gallon by 2025 — just six years away.

The car manufacturers usually grumble whenever the politicians and bureaucrats decide to significantly increase the standards, but they eventually play along because they know ideologically driven bureaucrats and environmentalists can make their lives miserable.

So, it is refreshing that the Trump administration is trying to return to reality — or at least a little closer to it. The administration wants to freeze CAFE standards at 2020 levels: about 43.7 mpg for cars and 31.3 mpg for light trucks.

Those levels may still be unrealistic and can only be achieved by carmakers averaging in their flex-fuel vehicles electric cars. Indeed, the federal requirement to meet unrealistic CAFE standards is one of the chief reasons carmakers invest so much money developing and marketing money-losing electric cars that only a handful of Americans are buying. 

The fact is we no longer need CAFE standards to ensure no country can hold the U.S. as an energy hostage. Our oil and gas companies are ensuring both our energy security and independence. 

That doesn’t mean carmakers will stop trying to make more fuel-efficient cars and light trucks — because that’s what consumers want from the vehicles they choose to buy, which are mostly trucks and SUVs. But it does mean a little realism has returned to the process. 

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.