Bush Energy Statement Is Good Talk, Not Enough Walk

May 14, 2007

Bush Energy Statement Is Good Talk, Not Enough Walk

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President, Public Citizen*

Once again, the president is playing a tricky game with the American people by claiming that he recognizes the importance of improving vehicle fuel economy and reducing emissions of the greenhouse gases that lead to global warming, but dropping clues that his administration’s plans will cheat consumers in the long run.

The president insists that his proposed “Twenty in Ten” fuel economy legislation must be the starting point for a coordinated effort to improve fuel economy and develop regulations to reduce vehicle greenhouse gas emissions. But his plan is a starting point for failure.

Bush’s so-called 20 percent cuts would not be in fuel consumption but in oil consumption. Only 5 percent of those cuts would be made through fuel economy improvements, while the rest would be provided by alternative – not renewable – fuels. This change opens the door for coal-to-liquids based fuel, which has the potential to emit more than twice as much carbon dioxide as gasoline. This plan undermines the incentive to increase efficiency while potentially undoing any benefit by emphasizing dirty fuels.

Congress should ignore this counterproductive approach and stick with a plan that works: raising the fuel economy standard by statute, as it did during the oil crisis in 1975. By raising Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements for cars and light trucks to 35 miles per gallon, we would save 1.3 million barrels of oil, or roughly $65 million each day. A more aggressive but very achievable increase to 40 miles per gallon would save 3.4 million barrels per day.

The president wants the legislation to give his administration new power to replace the fair, across-the-board fleetwide average for vehicle fuel economy with a complex sliding scale that would apply a range of standards, with the effect that bigger vehicles would be held to a lower standard than others. This would encourage manufacturers to continue making unnecessarily large and inefficient vehicles that also are a safety threat to others in crashes.

President Bush specifically mentioned balancing the costs and benefits of the rules his administration would issue. Cost-benefit analysis, especially in this administration’s hands, is a rigged game that is notoriously biased. Cost estimates are routinely overestimated – often wildly so – in large part because industry provides those estimates. Meanwhile, benefits are tough to quantify, especially such things as increased national security from a decreased reliance on foreign oil or a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. This would give the administration the excuse to issue minimal standards.

It’s long past time for the Bush administration to stop playing games with consumers and the environment and start putting us on a path to cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

* Joan Claybrook was administrator of NHTSA from 1977-1981.

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