On Thursday the U.S. EPA and DOT announced a new proposed rule on automobile fuel efficiency standards. The proposed rule would halt after 2020 the ongoing increases in required "Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency," or "CAFE" standards applicable to new vehicles sold. Previously, under a rule promulgated by the Obama administration in 2012, automobile companies were supposedly going to achieve a "corporate average" fuel efficiency of their new vehicles of 54.5 mpg by 2025. Does anything bigger than a moped actually get 54.5 mpg?
Call me crazy, but I struggle to understand why the American people are not capable of figuring out on their own how fuel-efficient of a vehicle they should buy. This is called "freedom." Obviously, a less-fuel-efficient vehicle costs more per mile to operate. People are always looking to save a buck, so then obviously wouldn't they buy the most fuel-efficient vehicles available? It turns out that sometimes they do, but mostly they don't. Undoubtedly, although they value fuel efficiency, they also value other things in a vehicle. In recent years the most popular vehicles for consumers have been pickup trucks -- the Ford F series and Chevy Silverado -- which are relatively large and fuel-inefficient compared to sedans and compacts. Car and Driver rates the Ford F-150 at 16 mpg city, and 22 mpg highway, which is nowhere near the 54.5 mpg average that the Obama administration was trying to impose on Americans. Maybe the people value the ability to carry large amounts of "stuff" around from place to place. Maybe they also think that larger and heavier vehicles are safer in a crash. Are these advantages worth the extra fuel cost? I'd say that's up to the people to determine on their own.
Let's calculate the difference in fuel cost between a vehicle that gets an average of 20 mpg and one that gets an average of 30 mpg. It's less than you might think. If you assume 10,000 miles driven per year and $3/gal for gasoline, the 20 mpg vehicle will consume about 500 gallons, or about $1500 of fuel, and the 30 mpg vehicle will consume about 333 gallons, or about $1000 of fuel. The difference is about $500 per year. Plenty of people appear to think that the ability to move lots of stuff, and the safety advantage, are worth the $500 per year.
But, GLOBAL WARMING!!!!!! Don't Americans contribute hugely to "warming the planet" by their disgusting use of gas-guzzling vehicles? Actually, that can be calculated too, and the effect is remarkably minuscule. The same climate models that are used to predict climate doom can be used in reverse to calculate how much removing some input from the system -- such as American vehicle emissions -- will affect world temperatures. I don't mean by making such a calculation to suggest that I agree that these models are even slightly based in reality, but only that they are the worst that doom-mongers have been able to come up with.
According to EPA, the "transportation sector" contributes 28% toward U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The transportation sector includes not just consumer vehicles, but all trucks, and also airlines, railroads, ships and boats. Consumer vehicles contribute about 60% of the emissions of the transportation sector, so about 17% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, even if "CAFE" standards could eliminate 100% of U.S. consumer vehicle emissions (completely unrealistic) that would only reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17%. The U.S. government has a model called MAGICC that they use to calculate potential increases in world temperatures from any increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The same model can be applied in reverse to calculate decreases in world temperatures from decreases in greenhouse gas emissions. If you assume a (ridiculously high) climate sensitivity of 3 deg C for a doubling of world CO2 emissions, and the complete validity of the MAGICC model, then the model calculates that the total elimination of the U.S. consumer vehicle sector would have an effect on world temperatures of about 0.013 deg C by 2050, and 0.018 deg C by 2100. Could anybody even measure that? (If you follow the ongoing fluctuations in world temperatures in the UAH series, you will know that fluctuations of 0.5 deg C within any given year, based on no apparent reason, are completely normal.)
But we're not talking here about the complete elimination of the U.S. consumer vehicle sector, but only increasing fuel economy standards of new vehicles by about 50%. So, if that were implemented, how much would it affect world temperatures? Clearly, it would be some small fraction of 0.02 deg C. In its supplemental information accompanying the new proposed rule, EPA calculates the potential effect on world temperatures as "3/1000ths of a degree Celsius." You could debate the specific calculation, but it certainly seems to be in about the right range. That is, only if you buy into the alarmist climate models. If you don't buy into the alarmist climate models, the effect would be even smaller still. No matter how you slice it, the effect would be way smaller than anything anyone (even the UAH satellite guys) could measure.
So given all of this, let's look at some of the outrage being spewed in the past couple of days over this insignificant change to the CAFE standards. As usual, I start with my favorite idiots, the New York Times. Their editorial is headlined "A Reckless Scheme on Auto Emissions." Excerpt:
[The proposed new rule] ignores, as have President Trump’s other actions, the rock-solid scientific consensus that without swift action to limit fossil fuel emissions, like those from cars, the consequences of climate change — rising seas, devastating droughts, wildfires and floods, and widespread species extinction — will get steadily worse. Of course, none of this was unexpected from a man who once described climate change as a hoax invented by the Chinese to hurt American businesses and who has surrounded himself with officials who, in many cases, owe their political success to the largess of oil, gas and coal companies.
Really??? -- "rising seas, devastating droughts, wildfires and floods, and widespread species extinction" from a temperature rise of maybe 0.003 deg C? And do you have an alternative calculation of the implied temperature rise from this regulatory action? If they do, they don't share it.
At a site called The Long Tailpipe, they have a compilation of releases about the proposed new rule from various environmental groups, each a bit more unhinged than the next. From Joel Levin of Plug In America:
The Trump Administration is tossing away states’ rights with this unprecedented proposal, telling Americans to drive dirtier vehicles that are more expensive to fuel,” said Joel Levin, Executive Director of Plug In America.
Actually, that's completely wrong: nothing in the proposed new rule prevents Americans from buying more fuel-efficient vehicles if they want them.
Similarly, from Public Citizen:
This proposal puts the Trump administration on a collision course with California and the supermajority of Americans who want more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Actually, the "supermajority" of Americans is buying the Ford F-150 and the Chevy Silverado.
From the Environmental Defense Fund:
This proposal will substantially increase pollution and will cost the average American family hundreds of dollars a year extra for gas.
In fact, nothing about the proposal prevents Americans who want smaller and more fuel-efficient cars from buying them. The previous Obama proposal would have forced Americans who did not want such vehicles to buy them against their will.
All in all, it's a small victory for freedom, and against the petty dictators who want to run our lives. But, how dumb do they think we are?