The Bush Administration is seeking to restructure the fuel economy standards for passenger cars. Secretary of the Department of Transportation Norman Mineta has sent Congress a letter asking for the authority to reform fuel economy standards for passenger automobiles for the first time, likely using an approach comparable to that applied to the light-duty truck sector in March. (Earlier post.)
The new light truck standards, although in the aggregate only marginally tougher than their predecessors, restructured (“reformed”) the Corporate Average Fuel Economy model to be based on vehicle size and product mix. By 2011, when the revised rules come into force, each automaker will have its own fuel economy standard based on its own product mix.
The DOT views the new reformed truck regulations as providing a structure that reduces fuel consumption, but also “eliminates incentives to make lighter and therefore more dangerous vehicles.” The Administration’s stated rationale is that imposing a uniform high fuel economy bar would incent automakers to skimp, to make lightweight products that would be unsafe in the quest for meeting the target.
DOT will apply the same philosophy to restructuring the passenger car standards.
Our National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has the technical expertise to regulate fuel economy in a manner that is cost effective, based on sound science and safeguards vehicle occupants. Substantial increases in CAFE standards under the current single standard approach would increase fatalities on America’s highways, raise healthcare costs and reduce employment. As a result, the Administration would oppose any increase in passenger car CAFE standards without corresponding reform.
Congress currently sets the car standards, which are 27.5 mpg. Any change in CAFE, starting from this point, would be initiated at the earliest in MY 2008, and would phase in gradually to a target date. In short, the request will bring no tangible relief in the short-term.
Bipartisan reaction to the request was somewhat tepid. House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) a longtime booster of higher mileage standards, said Mineta’s letter was a good sign but represented a weak commitment. (AP).
Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) said, “I only hope folks understand these actions will have no near-term effect on rising gas prices. The American people deserve real solutions, not a bunch of smoke and mirrors.” (AP)