CAFE Garbage From The Lunatic Fringe Infects The Media

CAFE standards are under attack by the media. Check out the title of an article in Newsday I found this morning: Highway death tolls will skyrocket as 54.5 mpg standard takes effect. That would get anyone’s attention, right? The thrust of the article is, “How can those clueless bureaucrats in Washington propose rules they know will kill American drivers?”

The Independent Institute

The article was posted in the OpEd/Opinion section of Newsday. So at least the publishers are not trying to foist it off as fact. Kudos for that. But the question is, who decided to publish this article and why now? What about it seemed so important that Newsday thought it should take precedence over any other of the many pressing issues of the day? I have heard there is a hotly contested presidential election campaign going on, for instance.

Let’s take a look at some of the astonishing statements make in this OpEd piece. The author’s main thesis is that if cars get significantly better fuel economy, Americans will take to the highways and byways of this great nation in record numbers. They will start driving willy nilly anywhere and everywhere. The old American tradition of taking a Sunday drive may be revived. Families may start driving to Disney World any time they feel like it.

Do you know what happens then, when all those cars are out on the road at the same time? More accidents. And that means more shattered limbs, more punctured lungs, more face plants into windshields. And more deaths. LOTS more deaths, according to the author, one William F. Shughart II. Here is the core of his argument:

What EPA bureaucrats appear not to understand – or refuse to acknowledge – is that improved fuel efficiency also can generate rebound effects. Because the cost per mile of driving a 54.5 mpg car is lower than that of a 34.5-mpg car, consumers rationally may respond to tougher standards by driving more miles, offsetting the standard’s intended effect.

The main problem with the mandated fuel economy standards is that the least expensive way for automakers to comply is by making vehicles lighter. Replacing steel with aluminum and fiberglass is cheaper than re-engineering already highly fuel-efficient engines. In fact, that may be the only way to meet the latest rules, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In conclusion he writes, “Lighter cars and trucks are less crash-worthy than heavier ones. Stricter mileage standards therefore will lead to more injuries and deaths on the nation’s highways.” That’s a rather extraordinary statement, isn’t it? The author goes on to say that plug-ins and hybrids might help ameliorate the carbon emissions problem, but in a world of $2.00 a gallon gas, they are irrelevant because no one will buy them.

I had to wonder who this Shughart II person was. At the end of the piece, Newsday identified him as follows: “William F. Shughart II is the research director of the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., and the J. Fish Smith Professor in Public Choice at Utah State University’s Huntsman School of Business.”

Sounds like a decent fellow, right? But what’s this Independent Institute and who is it independent from? A quick internet search turned up this information from “Founded in 1985, The conservative Independent Institute is ‘a non-profit, non-politicized, scholarly research and educational organization which sponsors comprehensive studies of major economic, social and environmental problems’.” The site goes on to say, “The Institute has sponsored climate skeptic Fred Singer and has been a member of the Cooler Heads Coalition.”

And who is this Fred Singer guy? It  seems he is a fairly well known climate change denier who wrote an article for the Independent Institute in November, 2003 that contained this sentence: “Thus, human-induced climate warming, although expected from greenhouse theory, is difficult to demonstrate and likely to remain insignificant in comparison to natural climate variations.”

The Independent Institute, it turns out, is independent of anything resembling scholarly research or cogent intellectual inquiry. It has accepted more than $85,000 in donations from ExxonMobil and was caught with its pants down by the New York Times, which found the Institute had taken out full page ads defending Microsoft against antitrust allegations brought by the federal government. Microsoft was the Institute’s largest donor that year. Surprise, surprise!

OK. I grant you that ExxonSecrets may not unbiased. What is important here is that the Independent Institute is just another public relations firm masquerading as a non-profit, non-aligned, “we call it the way we see it” organization. Like most so-called think tanks, whether liberal or conservative, what it thinks is controlled entirely by who is paying the bills this month. Which takes us back to our pals, the Koch Brothers, and their publicly announced $10,000,000 dollar program to sing the praises of fossil fuels.

Shughart II’s claims are laughable. Any second grader could poke holes in them. The real question is, why did Newsday decide to publish this article and why now? You decide.

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.