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Bush Fuel Economy Proposal: A Disappointing Drop in the Bucket

Dec. 13, 2002

Bush Fuel Economy Proposal: A Disappointing Drop in the Bucket

Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook

The good news is that the Department of Transportation finally has issued a proposal to increase the fuel economy of light trucks and sport utility vehicles. The bad news is that the rule falls miles short of what is possible. The proposed increase is minuscule and could be achieved – and surpassed – by readily available technologies and engine improvements. Also, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) made a significant error by proposing for public comment specific annual fuel economy increases, rather than annual ranges.

Over the past 15 years, fuel economy standards for light trucks have gone up a total of just .2 miles per gallon (mpg) because of auto industry lobbying. For the last six of these years, Congress prohibited NHTSA from doing any work to increase fuel economy standards and completey defunded the program. Now, the Bush administration has proposed boosting light truck fuel economy by a mere one and a half mpg over the next four years, from 20.7 today to 22.2 mpg by 2007.

Considering the history of stagnation, this miserly increase is disappointing. The administration suggests this is the best industry can do, yet it is less than what the auto industry itself has proposed doing. Ford in 2000 said it would boost fuel economy of its light trucks by 25 percent by 2005, and General Motors and DaimlerChrysler have pledged to follow suit. In contrast, Bush’s proposal calls for a seven percent increase.

Manufacturers could achieve even higher standards by merely cutting back on grossly overpowered engines or employing available engine and transmission improvements, boosting the fuel economy average of new vehicles – including cars – to 40 mpg by 2010. Further, automakers have deliberately worsened the situation by increasing the horsepower of SUVs over the past decade and a half. The industry says that it may have to make SUVs smaller. If that happens, they will lighten the overweight goliaths, and highways will become safer because vehicles will be more compatible in size.

Because NHTSA did not propose ranges for annual fuel economy increases, the public will be less able to substantiate the maximum feasible fuel economy the law requires automakers to achieve.

Once again, the Bush administration is trying to make people think it is acting when in fact it is doing very little.