Do fuel-economy tests help consumers?

Fuel economy tests: The EPA must not tamper with its mileage tests

2013-09-16T00:00:00Z Fuel economy tests: The EPA must not tamper with its mileage testsBy Michael E. Kraft Arizona Daily Star
September 16, 2013 12:00 am  • 

In 2010 and 2012, the Obama administration made pivotal decisions on energy use and climate change.

It negotiated agreements with auto companies on new fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles that will reach up to 34 miles per gallon by the model year 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025.

This is a 90 percent increase over previous levels, and it represents by far the biggest adjustment to vehicle fuel efficiency standards since their introduction in 1975. There also are new standards for medium and heavy-duty vehicles.

The passenger vehicle standards will result in sharp drops in release of air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.

The EPA estimates that greenhouse gas emissions from autos will be cut in half by 2025, making higher fuel efficiency standards the single most important action the federal government has taken on climate change.

The standards also reflect huge savings for drivers in fuel use and therefore in the cost of driving automobiles.

The EPA calculates that over time improved fuel economy will save consumers an amount equal to lowering the price of gasoline by $1 per gallon. The vehicles will cost a little more, but their higher efficiency more than makes up for the added cost.

In addition, the standards are the most significant action the nation has taken to date to reduce its dependence on imported oil, thereby strengthening the country’s energy security and improving its economy. The fuel efficiency changes will reduce U.S. consumption of oil by about 2 million barrels a day by 2025. That’s the equivalent of half of what we import from OPEC nations every day.

There are additional gains from these actions. The standards encourage automakers to innovate and invest in new technologies that are likely to make the U.S. more economically competitive and resilient in a shifting global economy. Without the standards, Chinese and other foreign automakers might well threaten domestic companies that lag behind in either fuel efficiency or automotive technologies that consumers are likely to demand.

Given all of these benefits to the nation, the EPA should reject efforts by the auto industry to revamp fuel economy standards or the testing procedures used to judge compliance with them.

The industry wants to make it easier for vehicles to meet the new mandates, in part because carmakers would prefer to delay costly investments in new technologies. Sadly, that has long been the posture of the industry. Auto companies have argued for decades that new environmental, safety and economy standards were not technically achievable or too costly. They wanted more wiggle room, and still do.

By granting concessions to automakers, the EPA would perpetuate use of old technologies and risk losing the substantial benefits that come with the new standards: improved air quality and public health, major fuel savings for consumers, a stronger economy and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Michael E. Kraft is professor emeritus of political science and public and environmental affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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