EPA Takes A Dive On CAFE Standard

On Monday, the EPA, in collaboration with NHTSA, and CARB, released a draft of the joint Technical Assessment Report, a document that studies costs, technology and other issues involved in lowering greenhouse gas emissions. The TAR, as it is called, is part of a mid-term review of the proposed fuel economy standards that will apply through the year 2025. The auto industry has been exceedingly busy making its opposition to the proposed CAFE target of 54.5 mpg known to regulators.


EPA CAFE timelilne

They have been bombarded with study after study — bought and paid for by the auto industry, of course — saying that the goal was much too high and completely unachievable. Funded by the Koch Brothers and their “Drill, baby, drill” friends, the EPA and others were so moved by the mountain of data that they have now discarded that target. In doing so, they went out of the way to praise the industry for its incredibly thoughtful, innovative, and helpful assistance in improving average fuel economy over the past several years.

The auto industry is “adopting fuel economy technologies at unprecedented rates,” the government agencies said in their statement. “Car makers and suppliers have developed far more innovative technologies to improve fuel economy and reduce GHG emissions than anticipated just a few years ago.” The statement goes on to say that automakers have somehow been able to meet the current regulations for about the same cost or even less than the government projected in 2012.

The report says automakers have all the tools they need to meet the 54.5 mpg corporate average fuel economy targets for the 2025 model year. But buyer preferences for SUVs and trucks mean the industry will fall short of that number. .

Senior administration officials told reporters on a conference call Monday that the 54.5 mpg goal was never a mandate. It was more of an estimate of where the industry could be by the 2025 model year. The predicate for that estimate was an assumption that 67 percent of the non-commercial market would be cars and 33 percent would be SUVs, crossovers, pickups and other light trucks. Now the government estimates that overall fleet average fuel economy will hit between 50 mpg and 52.6 mpg by the 2025 model year.

In practice, it hasn’t worked out quite that way.The new estimates assume the split between car and truck sales will be closer to 50-50. Since fleet averages are sales weighted, advances in fuel economy in the passenger car sector won’t be fully reflected in the overall numbers. In actuality, passenger car sales have now slipped to about 40% of the market.

Here’s the big news. The report says automakers will be able to meet the new standards with improvements in standard gasoline engines. They won’t need to rely heavily on sales of hybrids or electric cars.

That’s wonderful news, isn’t it? With the stoke of a regulatory pen, we can all stop worrying about whether plug-in hybrids or battery electric cars are the wave of the future. The answer is — neither. America can get along just fine with good old fashioned internal combustion engines under the hoods of our cars. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Nothing to see here. Move along. Just keep building all those conventional cars. Everything’s going to be fine.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group for 12 carmakers and the Detroit 3, said in a statement that “excessive regulatory costs could impact both consumers and the employees who produce these vehicles.”  It says the altered stance  by regulators is just a very practical nod to consumer demand. “The government is acknowledging the effect of factors like low gas prices on consumer sales, and the impact of consumer sales on those targets.”

Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, said the auto industry has the power to shape consumer preferences through its advertising campaigns and could easily meet the 54.5 mpg target if it stopped aggressively marketing SUVs and trucks. “There is no excuse not to improve efficiency and strengthen the standards,” Becker said. “We can’t accept backsliding or loopholes that undermine their success just to put more gas-guzzlers on the road.”

This decision by regulators starkly illustrates why the regulatory process is virtually useless. It has totally lost sight of the objective, which is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. The world is in an emergency. If we continued to do what we have always done, we are dooming our children to life on a planet that will find it harder and harder to support the human race.

The oceans and glaciers, deserts and skies don’t care one whit about whether a company makes a profit selling 9,000 lb ground pounders to some urban cowboy so he can trundle down to Home Depot to pick up a pound of 6d finish nails in his pickup. Ego massage is hardly a valid reason to destroy the home we all share. The earth should not suffer because people are constantly locked into a game of “Mine’s bigger than yours.”

The problem is that regulations do a poor job of altering people’s behavior. We tend to chafe under the burden of mandates imposed from above. The better solution is to make fossil fuels bear the full cost of the damage they do. The market system we have now allows producers and manufacturers to foist those costs off onto the shoulder of others — usually the weak and powerless. We no longer live in a human society. We live in a global economy where only the bottom line matters. People are willingly, even gladly, sacrificed on the altar of corporate greed.

It’s time to stop the madness. It’s time to stop rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic while the band plays Nearer My Got To Thee. It’s time to get serious about saving our planet. A carbon fee would do in one fell swoop what all the regulations that could ever be written will fail to do. It would level the playing field and make the polluters pay for the damage they cause.

What could be fairer than that?

Source: Automotive News  Graphic via EPA

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.