Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook Tells Congress To Boost CAFE Standards

May 9, 2006

Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook Tells Congress To Boost CAFE Standards

Claybrook Testifies Before Senate Subcommittee About Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen and a former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in testimony before a Senate subcommittee today urged Congress to raise the passenger car Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.

Claybrook testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s

Subcommittee on Surface, Transportation and Merchant Marine, which is considering the Bush administration’s request for the authority to issue CAFE standards for passenger automobiles, NHTSA’s recently issued light truck fuel economy rule for 2008-2011, and the effects of new legislation on safety, reliability and energy conservation.

“Increasing the fuel economy of passenger vehicles would help to lower gas prices within a few years by reducing demand substantially,” Claybrook said. “It would also bolster national security, improve safety, conserve natural resources, reduce pollution and help slow the effects of global warming.”

She urged Congress to statutorily set the fuel economy standards at 31 miles per gallon (mpg) for 2008 cars and 32.5 mpg for 2009 cars, and to direct NHTSA to set higher standards for later model year passenger vehicles through 2015. In 1977 as NHTSA administrator, Claybrook issued the first fuel economy standards for passenger cars for the early 1980s. The standard for passenger cars was set at 27.5 mpg for 1985 vehicles and has not been raised since.

In her testimony, she also recommended that Congress direct NHTSA to promulgate a single mpg requirement rather than a sliding-scale standard like the light truck fuel economy standard the agency issued on April 6. A sliding scale allows larger vehicles to comply with less stringent standards than smaller vehicles and raises serious concerns that oil savings will erode over time due to the risk that manufacturers will increase the size of vehicles to qualify for a lower standard.

Claybrook also stressed that car fuel economy can be improved without sacrificing safety. Auto manufacturers frequently claim that fuel economy improvements result in down-weighting of vehicles, which causes safety concerns. But historically, manufacturers have not relied on changes in weight but on fuel-saving technologies that are currently widely available. When manufacturers reduce the weight of vehicles, they do so only for the heaviest vehicles, which improves safety.

“If the car standard were an achievable fleet-wide average of 40 mpg, we would save approximately 3.4 million barrels of oil a day,” Claybrook said. “Over the course of a year, these savings would total approximately 1.24 billion barrels, a quantity almost one and a half times greater than our current annual imports from the Persian Gulf.”

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To read Claybrook’s testimony, click here.