The Trump administration wants to substantially reduce the fuel economy standard for new cars. Six years ago, the government and auto makers agreed that cars made in the 2025 model year should get an average of 54.5 miles per gallon (mpg). The President plans to reduce the mileage standard to 37 miles per gallon. Lowering the mpg target would hit drivers hard in the pocketbook and cause serious harm to the environment.
The President claims the 54.5 mpg standard is dangerous because the higher standard will make it cheaper for people to drive. So, they will drive more and have more accidents. The President wants to require people to fill up more often, costing them more to drive every mile. So, they won’t drive as much and will have fewer accidents. In essence, we will be safer because it will cost lots more to go anywhere.
First, I think most people are like me - I want to get the best mileage possible and pay as little for gas as possible. As Idaho Attorney General in the 1980s, I worked to keep gas prices down and found that Idahoans strongly supported getting the most mileage for their gasoline dollar.
Second, I don’t need a nanny-state government telling me how I will spend the money I save by getting 17.5 more miles out of each gallon of gas I buy. It might just be that we are smart enough to use the money we save from the higher mpg standard to pay for food, rent, and other necessities, instead of driving more and having more accidents.
If we are going to have all that extra cash in our pockets from the higher mpg standard, maybe the Congress could get up some guts and increase the gas tax. Some of that extra money could then be used to fix our dangerous roads and bridges and save a bunch of lives.
It is also claimed that higher efficiency cars will be lighter and less safe. That is baloney. High strength aluminum has been shown to absorb impact better than heavier and less pliable steel. Lighter cars will be safer. And, think about the Ford F-150, which is still the most popular vehicle around, even after it switched to an aluminum body.
Sticking with the higher standard will substantially reduce greenhouse gas and pollution emissions and save lives. Air pollution kills an estimated 80,000 Americans every year and causes respiratory illnesses in the hundreds of thousands. Auto emissions are a significant cause. More fuel-efficient cars will reduce the pollution spewing into our air and perhaps reduce the wintertime inversions in Idaho.
As the increasingly hot and turbulent global weather demonstrates, we face a bleak future unless we start taking dramatic steps to combat climate change. The earth is like one of those sealed globes that you shake to watch it snow. We are cramming our closed atmosphere full of heat-trapping gases, which will continue to warm our planet to the point that we will not be able to grow enough crops to feed the world population. The Pentagon sees this as an existential threat to our country.
Besides switching to clean energy sources like wind and solar, we should be doing everything possible to reduce emissions of heat-holding gases. A higher fuel efficiency standard for automobiles will result in less greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere. That can play a part in keeping the Earth from becoming a barely inhabitable hot house.