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Debate: Vehicle fuel economy standards

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Are vehicle fuel economy standards a good strategy in fighting global warming?

Background and context

Fuel economy standards are regulations on the efficiency of vehicle engines. It is typically measured by the distance a vehicle can travel on a gallon of gasoline (kilometers per gallon or miles per gallon).
This debate generally surrounds whether it is a good idea to regulate or raise the regulations on fuel economy. In 2007, the United States, for instance, saw a major debate surrounding raising its Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards (CAFE), and whether to raise them from 27.5 mpg in 2007 to 35 mpg by the year 2020. The US Congress voted in favor of increasing CAFE standards, but not without substantial debate and continuing resistance from many groups. A similar debate exists in other places around the world as well. The debate centers on some of the following questions. Do vehicle fuel economy standards help reduce emissions and fight global warming? Or, do consumers react to fuel economy standards by driving more, offsetting any cuts in emissions? What is the history of fuel economy standards in this regard? Have they helped reduce emissions in Europe and Japan, for example? Are the markets a superior way to reduce emissions? Can high gasoline prices sufficiently incentivize automakers to make more fuel-efficient vehicles? Is fuel efficiency an important ingredient for auto-makers to stay competitive? How much gas money is saved by increasing fuel economy? Does this make up for any higher manufacturing costs? Will fuel economy standards help improve the energy independence of a nation? Are fuel economy standards safe, or does it force the creation of smaller, more vulnerable vehicles? How do fuel economy standards compare with the other approaches to reducing emissions, such as a carbon tax? Should fuel economy standards be prioritized as a solution?

Contents

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Emissions: Do fuel economy standards help reduce emissions, combat global warming?

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Yes

  • Fuel economy standards reduce emissions, fight global warming The most basic function of fuel economy standards is that they help the average car burn less gasoline, so emit less C02 into the atmosphere. The net effect is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, which lowers the net human contribution to global warming.
Ian Parry. "Should Automobile Fuel Economy Standards Be Increased?". Resources for the Future. 17 Sept. 2007 - "Critics of CAFE standards sometimes point to the perverse effect of higher fuel economy on lowering fuel costs per mile and increasing the incentive to drive, which can increase highway congestion, accidents, and pollution. However, according to a recent study by Kenneth Small and Kurt Van Dender, less than 10 percent of the fuel savings from better fuel economy are offset by increased driving; most likely, the costs of this "rebound effect" are probably fairly modest."



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No

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Environment: What are the other environmental pros and cons?

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Yes

  • Fuel economy standards reduce emissions, improve air quality. By reducing emissions, it is important to consider how fuel economy standards will improve air quality and public health, particularly in metropolitan areas.


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No

  • Fuel economy standards only shift environmental impacts A 1992 National Research Council (NRC) report concluded, "Improvements in vehicle fuel economy will have indirect environmental impacts. For example, replacing the cast iron and steel components of vehicles with lighter weight materials (e.g., aluminum, plastics, or composites) may reduce fuel consumption but would generate a different set of environmental impacts, as well as result in different kinds of indirect energy consumption."[2]
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Economics: What are the economic pros and cons of fuel economy standards?

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Yes

  • Fuel economy standards reduce money spent by drivers on gas. Fuel economy standards help reduce the amount of gasoline consumers use in traveling where they want to go. This means that they spend less on gasoline and have more money to spend on other things.
  • Fuel economy standards help car companies stay competitive Thomas Friedman. "Et Tu, Toyota?". New York Times. 3 Oct. 2007 - "Michigan lawmakers year after year shielding Detroit from pressure to innovate on higher mileage standards, even though Detroit’s failure to sell more energy-efficient vehicles has clearly contributed to its brush with bankruptcy, its loss of market share to Toyota and Honda — whose fleets beat all U.S. automakers in fuel economy in 2007 — and its loss of jobs. G.M. today has 73,000 working U.A.W. members, compared with 225,000 a decade ago. Last year, Toyota overtook G.M. as the world’s biggest automaker."
  • Fuel economy standards foster innovation and jobs Fuel economy standards require regulatory agencies, which can fill jobs. In addition, creating more fuel-efficient vehicles requires innovation by auto-makers, which stimulates action and jobs in the industry.
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No

  • Fuel economy standards violate consumer choice NADA chairwoman Annette Sykora said in February 2008, "The consumer will decide what works and what doesn't. It's that simple. You can't wave a government wand and make consumers buy a particular type of vehicle. This is not Europe."[3]
  • Fuel economy standards unfairly punish car manufacturers Dan Carney. "Why U.S. fuel-economy standards don't work". MSNBC. 4 Oct. 2007 - "Recognizing that burning less fuel is beneficial for a multitude of reasons, those countries employ an array of policies designed to encourage frugality. Some countries have a higher sales tax on cars with bigger engines. The fuel itself is taxed, making its purchase sting enough that consumers are willing to sacrifice some interior space. The tax on diesel fuel is lower, encouraging sales of more fuel-efficient diesel-powered models. Friedman seeks to be seen as punishing “Detroit” rather than the little guy. And the little guy is a factor. People with lower income spend a proportionally higher amount of their money on gas, so liberals are reluctant to tax them directly."


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Energy independence: Do fuel economy standards increase energy independence?

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Yes

  • Efficiency standards a good alternative to more oil drilling "The Way to Energy Independence (Hint: It Isn’t Drilling)". New York Times Editorial Board. 18 Aug. 2008 - "Wouldn’t it be great if we could satisfy our national appetite for oil by reducing consumption instead of increasing production — and protect the environment in the bargain?[...]We can — not by punching holes in the ground but simply by getting the numbers right on a piece of paper[...]Here’s how[...]Last December, Congress approved and President Bush signed a landmark energy bill that, among other things, upgraded the nation’s fuel economy standards for the first time in three decades[...]It requires automakers to achieve a fleetwide average for cars and light trucks of at least 35 miles per gallon by 2020. That would be a 40 percent increase over today’s levels, and it could save as much as 1.1 million barrels of oil a day."


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No

  • Fuel economy standards don't help energy independence. Fuel economy standards do not decrease fuel consumption because people simply drive more when their cars are more efficient and driving is less expensive. (see full argument above) This means that fuel economy standards will not help reduce the amount of oil consumed, nor the amount of oil imported from abroad, so it will not strengthen energy independence.



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Safety: Are safety concerns involved with increasing fuel economy standards?

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Yes

  • Fuel economy standards do not put drivers at greater risk Jen Dunnaway. "Latest Loony Argument Against CAFE Standards: High-MPG Cars Kill People". Car Domain Blog. 26 Mar. 2008 - "Republican lobbyist [Grover Norquist] claimed that requiring the automakers to eke up their mpg ratings was tantamount to murdering consumers—by forcing them into smaller cars, putting them at greater risk during collisions. His argument is based on one 2002 study that explored the effects of the diminishing body size of cars in the 70's. In addition to simplistically generalizing the results of that report to the new generation of compact cars, his position also ignores a lot of key realities about crashes, including the illusion of safety experienced by drivers of big vehicles, their greater likelihood of single-vehicle accidents and rollovers, and the tendency of large rides to transfer more energy to the bodies of occupants during a crash, resulting in worse injuries."


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No


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Vs. gas tax: Are fuel economy standards superior to a gas tax?

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Yes

  • Fuel economy standards better politically than gas taxes Ezra Klein. "Gas Tax vs. Cafe Standards". The American Prospect. 29 Aug 2005 - "Gas taxes, unlike CAFE increases, are basically impossible to pass. Particularly now. It's one thing to sneak in a gas tax when fuel is cheap, but convincing Americans of it when they're demanding a drop in gas prices is not, I think, a sound recipe for political survival. It just won't happen. On the other hand, 93% of Americans support an increase in CAFE standards. That doesn't make it easy -- the auto industry is a powerful lobby. But they're going to fight a gas tax too, so I'd rather our politicians be battling back with an overwhelmingly popular proposal rather than running into industry opposition while carrying a bill Americans will stone them for passing."


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No


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Pro/con sources

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Yes


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No


See also

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