By Dr. Jay Lehr and Tom Harris
It began to go wrong in the late 1950s when M. King Hubbert of the US Geological Survey predicted that America would start to run out of oil by the end of the 1960s. His prediction was called Peak Oil, defined as the point at which our nation, and perhaps the world, would use more oil in a single year than was discovered to replenish it. Hence the beginning of the end.
While he was a talented petroleum geophysicist, Hubbert did not properly appreciate mankind’s ability to advance its technology to learn new ways to discover, extract, and refine oil. When Peak Oil did not occur by the 1970s, people did not discard his pessimistic view; they just rolled it further down the calendar.
As so, when the Arab Oil Embargo struck in 1973, pessimists applied the Peak Oil concept to drive the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (1975) which ordered the government to require automobile manufacturers to produce cars that would average a government-mandated fuel efficiency of a predetermined miles per gallon.
Existing automobile technology required two things to happen to meet the stringent new efficiency standards:
. Make their vehicles lighter in weight and thus less safe;
. Begin producing electric cars using no gasoline at all.
For many, the long-range intent was to get rid of fossil fuels and make all cars electric, focusing on the threat of global warming as an excuse. That would never likely be possible because Americans love their heavy cars and trucks and remain fearful of the short range of most electric cars.
Regardless, as the years went by, the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiencies (CAFE) mandated by the government were severely increased. All but the richest of Americans complained about the rising cost of their cars and trucks, costs that were, in effect, subsidizing each company’s electric cars. The late Sergio Marchionne, former CEO of Fiat Chrysler estimated that they actually lost $20,000 on each electric car it sold.
Today electric vehicles make up only 1.5 percent of new car purchases and that is even with significant state and federal subsidies. Some data conclude that nearly half of consumers who purchase an electric vehicle do not buy another because of their challenges with range and the time they take to recharge. In spite of this, the Obama administration set the corporate average fuel economy to exceed 54.5 miles per gallon beginning in 2025.
No data, research, or experimentation can be found to support the possibility of such an optimistic, some would say unreasonable, standard. It would have to rely on automobile technologies yet undiscovered. However, this absurd position was aided by the previous administration repurposing the 1975 energy conservation law to require reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from automobile exhausts. This was a result of the Supreme Court ruling that CO2 was a polluting contaminate which should be controlled by means of other existing legislation directing EPA to improve air quality.
It is estimated by the present administration that, for vehicles to exceed 54.5 miles per gallon beginning in 2025, manufacturers would have to have electric vehicles make up 30 percent of their fleets over the next seven years.
Current standards have already driven the average cost of a mid-priced automobile to $35,000, out of the reach of many Americans. This has resulted in cars being kept far longer than previously. In particular, the average age of an American car is now 12 years, in comparison with only 8.5 years, 20 years ago. And older cars further reduce driver safety.
Now coming to the rescue is a joint study by the EPA and the Transportation Department. Together they have spent the past year gathering data and meeting with safety, environmental, and industry groups. This information was used to assess how fuel economy requirements affect affordability, safety, jobs, pollution, the economy, and our country’s energy needs. In terms of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, the Obama administration admitted its requirements would have minimal impacts.
On August 2, the EPA and the US Department of Transportation released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that they call the “Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient” (SAFE) vehicles rule to correct the previous rules. This would freeze fuel efficiency at the 2020 planned standard of 36 miles per gallon through 2026.
EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said, “We are delivering on President Trump’s promise to the American public that his administration would address and fix the current fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards.”
All of this is wonderful news, at least until all fuel efficiency standards are finally withdrawn. In a capitalist, free market economy leading the world in energy production, the U.S. government need not be involved at all.
Dr. Jay Lehr is the science director of The Heartland Institute which is based in Arlington Heights, Ill. Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition.