Much of the debate surrounding the recent proposal to lower fuel economy standards focuses on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes. While this is absolutely a conversation worth having, it misses the role and purpose of the other agency at the center of fuel economy—the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at the Department of Transportation.
In 1975, Congress passed a law called the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, due to energy security concerns that arose in the wake of the oil crisis. That law is the basis for the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. National security ruled the day until EPA stepped in, in 2009. Since then, NHTSA’s role in setting fuel economy targets has been overshadowed by EPA’s dominance. So has its purpose.
The CAFE standards were designated by Congress with a singular, vital goal: reducing petroleum use in the interests of national security.
Not many would argue that we are more secure than we were then, nor are we less dependent on oil. Petroleum certainly continues to dominate our transportation. Oil dollars continue to flow to hostile regimes, despite more U.S. drilling and production than ever. Our subservience to OPEC and Saudi Arabia continues unabated, with the president on Thursday again urging the cartel to produce more oil. Yet NHTSA has proposed that we go backward, to the tune of 500,000 additional barrels a day, if their preferred fuel economy proposal wins the day.
Now is not the time to go backward. Petroleum continues to be the stock broth for simmering instability in the Middle East. We don’t know precisely when it’s going to boil, or what will explode from the pot in response. But when the next boil happens, the costs of a cure will far exceed the ounce of prevention that responsible, cost-effective CAFE standards can provide.
Continued progress in fuel economy does not mean crimping consumer choice or breaking the bank for either companies or American drivers. On the contrary. Higher fuel economy lowers the cost of a fill-up. The impressive gains in miles per gallon over the past decade have been delivered with unprecedented variety to meet the needs of every driver. Auto companies have thrived. There’s no reason not to continue this trend, while at the same time put our country on the road to TRUE energy independence.
Energy independence is not measured by basic accounting to reduce or eliminate imports. It’s controlling our own energy destiny, regardless of world events. By that measure, we’re far from independent—let alone secure. As long as we are bound to petroleum, our national security, as well as our geopolitical and economic destiny, will be tied to the interests of other nations and the fates of the world oil market.
Americans want genuine energy independence. Congress gave NHTSA a handy tool to move us in the right direction. The agency’s job is to wield it in our national interest. Fuel Freedom will be asking them to do just that.
You can help, too: by signing our petition demanding that we stay the course with a robust CAFE program.
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