April 1, 2003
Final Rule on Light Truck Fuel Economy Saves a Mere Drop in the Bucket and Makes a Mockery of the Rulemaking Process
Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook on NHTSA’s Final Rule for Light Truck Fuel Economy Standards
In issuing its final rule on light truck fuel economy standards late today, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) missed a golden opportunity to improve safety, save consumers money at the pump and reduce our dependence on oil. The agency opted to raise fuel economy standards by just 1.5 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2007 – a pittance.
The agency’s rulemaking on this matter was a sham. NHTSA failed to budge from its proposal last fall, deciding instead to ratify numbers it had already set, despite receiving tens of thousands of comments from citizens calling for a tougher standard. The agency’s numbers were also considerably lower than those suggested in 2001 by the National Academy of Sciences, which found that fuel economy could be significantly raised without compromising safety.
The numbers apparently were fixed by the auto industry last year. E-mails sent between agency officials and corporate officials from Ford and General Motors, obtained recently by Public Citizen through a Freedom of Information Act request, confirm that NHTSA used the manufacturer’s numbers as the basis for its calculations, rather than setting the standards at the “maximum feasible” level as required by law.
Today’s rule accommodates industry backpedaling rather than setting out a real goal. The agency estimates ignored public promises in 2000 by the Big Three U.S. manufacturers to raise the fuel economy of SUVs by 25 percent – promises that were later recanted. Amazingly, the newly announced standard for 2005 of 21.0 mpg represents no improvement at all. In fact, 21 mpg was the average for the Big Three in 2000, three years ago (in 2000, General Motors’ and Ford’s fleet-wide light truck fuel economy average was 21 mpg and Daimler/Chrysler’s was 21.4 mpg).
NHTSA plans to soon issue a proposal for changes to the fuel economy program, but the agency’s hand-in-glove relationship with industry threatens its credibility as a steward of public safety and of the fuel economy laws. If funding is the problem, the agency must approach Congress to ask for more money. Above all, on the heels of this farce, NHTSA must show that its future rulemakings are more than a charade of a public process, and that its consideration of public comments, and not merely industry interests, are more than an empty performance.
*Joan Claybrook was NHTSA Administrator from 1977-1981.