Administration Gives Green Light to Gas-Guzzling SUVs

April 3, 2002

Administration Gives Green Light to Gas-Guzzling SUVs

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

The Bush administration did consumers in the United States no favors by announcing April 1 that it would not raise the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard for SUVs for the 2004 model year. This announcement was appropriately issued on April Fools Day, demonstrating the administration?s misguided energy policy choices and unwillingness to seriously consider conservation as a method of improving our economic stability and foreign policy options.

The current, inadequate standard of only 20.7 miles per gallon has been in place since 1996 as a result of a Congressional freeze on money for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to study or adjust the standard. Overall fuel economy standards haven?t been meaningfully adjusted for more than 17 years.

Contrary to its rhetoric, this inaction by the administration will encourage no new technologies, increase U.S. dependence on imported oil, worsen passenger safety by allowing vehicle makers to continue making aggressive, overweight vehicles, and threaten jobs by making consumers more vulnerable to sudden shifts in the price of oil.

Last month, the Senate caved to pressure from the auto industry and the United Auto Workers and struck required CAFE increases from its energy legislation. The administration has been pushing an energy plan that was written by the coal, oil and nuclear industries with no input from consumers. Now the administration has sided with industry again by letting another year pass without upgrading this outdated standard.

While we realize NHTSA has been denied resources for six years, the agency should have increased the standards a token amount (to 20.9 mpg) to show it is serious about conservation.

I first issued CAFE standards after the oil shocks in 1977 while head of NHTSA. They were very successful in significantly slowing the growth of oil consumption in the U.S. But during the past 17 years, automakers have built bigger, heavier and more energy consumptive SUVs instead of reducing the amount of gas their vehicles guzzle.

The technology to improve light truck fuel economy obviously exists. If automakers can design massive trucks with top speeds of well over 100 mph, they can certainly build vehicles that guzzle less gas. Unfortunately the administration has again limited the choices for consumers who want to drive safe and efficient vehicles.

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Click here to view a copy of the DOT statement.