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Public Citizen Urges Lawmakers to Raise Fuel Standards for SUVs and Light Trucks

Feb. 10, 2000

Public Citizen Urges Lawmakers to Raise Fuel Standards
for SUVs and Light Trucks

Public Citizen to Testify Before House Subcommittee

    WASHINGTON, D.C. Lawmakers should close a loophole that effectively exempts sport utility vehicles and similar light trucks from fuel economy standards that apply to most automobiles, Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen s Critical Mass Energy Project, will tell lawmakers today.

    The loophole applies to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, passed 25 years ago, Hauter will say. Hauter is scheduled to testify at 4:00 p.m. before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation about the CAFE law, which created standards for the number of miles per gallon that cars and trucks must meet. The standards have helped cut pollution, improve air quality and helped polluted regions achieve the goals of the Clean Air Act. By reducing oil consumption, CAFE standards keep 500,000 tons of cancer-causing hydrocarbon emissions out of the air we breathe.

    However, a loophole exists tacked on annually to the budget bill that bars the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) from preparing, proposing or promulgating CAFE standards for SUVs and light trucks. This loophole, which is up for reconsideration as part of the annual budget process, has effectively frozen fuel economy standards for both SUVs and light trucks. Fuel economy of today s light trucks has stagnated for nearly two decades, while the market share of these vehicles has jumped from 20 percent in the 1970s to nearly half of new vehicle sales today. A 14 mpg SUV will emit more than 70 tons of carbon dioxide over its lifetime, while the average new car emits 38 tons.

    “The CAFE standards are one of the most successful environmental policies of all time,” Hauter said. “These standards provide an efficient and relatively painless way of achieving a cleaner and safer environment for all Americans. Just as standards for cars have been raised as technology has advanced, so too should standards for SUVs and light trucks.”

    Not only is closing the loophole essential to cutting down on pollution, but it would make roads safer, because sport utility vehicles whose safety record is not good would be unable to meet the standards, Hauter will tell lawmakers.

    SUVs are four times more likely to roll over in a crash than cars. Rollovers account for 62 percent of SUV deaths, while rollovers cause 22 percent of deaths in cars. Further, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that collisions between cars and light trucks account for half of all fatalities in crashes that involve vehicles smaller than large commercial trucks.

    In the years since the CAFE standards were developed, light truck fuel economy standards barely changed because they were stopped by the auto and transportation industries and their allies in Congress, who have been influenced by large campaign contributions, Hauter will say. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, transportation Political Action Committees (PACs) gave $11,526,600 to federal candidates for office between 1997 and today. Oil and gas PACs gave $8,225,587 during the same time period. These figures do not include the large amounts of soft money that are spent by automobile and oil interests.

    The CAFE standard program is good for consumers because it saves them money. Since the standards were enacted in 1975, the average fuel efficiency of new cars sold in America has doubled. Annually, CAFE standards save consumers more than $30 billion. A new car purchaser saves an average of $3,000 at the gas pump over the lifetime of the car.

    “Certainly, members of Congress should put the interests of the American people before the interests of the auto and oil industries,” said Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen president. “Less pollution, safer roads, and more money in consumers pockets means that every American will profit from increasing fuel efficiency standards.”