Planet Gore

A Blood for Oil Trade Congress can get Behind

Many people seem to think that the U.S.’s (and much of the rest of the developed world’s) concern for and ongoing costly interaction with the Middle East is driven by petro-politics — the idea being that we care about the fate of Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region primarily because they have much of the oil we need to keep the engine’s humming.  Thus, when the Iraq war broke out (both the present one and the one under the Senior Bush) protestor’s chanted “no more blood for oil,”  the implication being that the West is only there to protect our oil interest.  I, as I believe any rational individual would, reject this view.

However, if we were in the Middle East solely or even primarily because of the Western world’s concern with oil supplies, I would also be shouting “No more blood for oil.”  Which is why the Senate’s action last week, which, if ultimately ennacted would significantly increase the CAFE standard for cars and light trucks, is deeply troubling to me. 
CAFE is a unnecessary; ineffective, and dangerous.
CAFE replaces consumers’ freedom of choice in the marketplace with political choice from D.C. and it is unnecessary — People can choose fuel efficient cars if they want them.  There are more than 60 car models sold today that get more than 30 mpg and more than 30 that get more than 40 mpg.  Few of these vehicles are best sellers because most people choose vehicles based on factors other than fuel economy.  Even Toyota, the company with the most fuel efficient fleet of vehicles fought against the increase because they recognize that, though they would be modestly competitively advantaged by the standards, most eople want comfort – with air conditioning and automatic transmissions–, the ability to haul multiple passengers with legroom and headroom to spare, quick acceleration for passing and merging onto the highway, the ability to haul heavy loads, trailers and boats and safety in an accident.  The laws of physics and current technology indicate you can have all of these things or you can have great fuel economy — but you can’t have both.
CAFE is ineffective as a tool for reducing foreign oil consumption because both theory and history show that increasing fuel economy makes it cheaper to drive and when you make it cheaper to drive people do more of it.  The number of miles people drive has doubled since CAFE was first enacted — cancelling out the gains from fuel economy.
 Finally, and this get back to my opening point, CAFE is truly a blood for oil trade which Congress has no business imposing on drivers — put simply Congress shouldn’t be putting more people at risk of injury or death simply in order to raised funds from environmental lobbyists. 
Research has shown that, on average, for every 100 pounds shaved off new cars to meet CAFE standards, between 440 and 780 additional people were killed in auto accidents — or a total of 2,200 to 3,900 lives lost per model year.  As a result, current CAFE standards have resulted in more people killed than service personel lost in all of the Vietnam war.  
When it comes to energy policy — and any other policy for that matter –, Congress should adopt a legislative Hippocratic oath “Do no harm.”  Let’s hope the House shows more understanding of economics and basic concern for the welfare of their ever more mobile constituents than the Senate did. 

H. Sterling Burnett is a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research and education institute in Dallas, Texas. While he works ...


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