Enabling oil addiction.
In his State of the Union speech earlier this year, President Bush talked boldly about the need to reduce the United States' "addiction to oil." Yet his administration's new fuel economy standards fall far short of the president's tough talk.
To use Bush's own addiction analogy, his new mileage standards fail to put the nation on a realistic course to recovery, and instead provide only a slightly reduced drug fix. Worse, they also prevent Oregon and 10 other states from adopting the nation's first controls on vehicle pollution linked to global warming pollution from vehicles, a step they took because of the federal government's failure to adopt uniform controls on greenhouse-gas emissions.
And yet, administration officials are trying to make the new standards sound like the greatest automotive innovation since windshield wipers. Meanwhile, automakers, whose lobbyists achieved their primary goal of barring states from adopting their own emissions limits, are making compliance sound like an assault on Mount Everest when it's really just a Sunday jog in the park that requires no new technological exertions.
The most welcome and long overdue step that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration took was to end the maddening mileage-standards exemption for large sports utility vehicles, such as the popular Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Yukon and Hummer H2. On average, most trucks and SUVs will be required to get about 11 percent better gas mileage by 2011. The overall standard for light trucks will baby-step from the current 22.7 miles per gallon to 24 mpg within the next four years.
Administration officials proudly proclaim that the new rules will save 10.7 billion gallons of fuel over nearly two decades, or roughly 25 days' worth of gas under current consumption trends. That sounds great, but the fuel savings pale in comparison to what a more substantial increase in fuel-efficiency standards might have achieved. It's also disappointing that the new rules do not apply to heavy pickup trucks, that the heaviest versions of SUVs remain exempt, and that the new rules do not apply to passenger cars.
If the president were really serious about reducing this country's addiction to oil, then he would have eliminated all exemptions and set more aggressive standards that apply to all classes of vehicles, including light trucks and passenger cars. Instead, he has taken a modest half step that does little to curb this nation's dependence on foreign oil or to prod U.S. automakers into producing more competitive vehicles.
Bush also missed a prime opportunity to combine new fuel-efficien- cy standards with desperately needed national controls for vehicular greenhouse gas emissions. Even worse, the administration's decision to include a federal pre-emption will, unless overturned by the courts, thwart the gutsy efforts of 11 states - including California, Oregon and Washington - to impose their own strong emissions limits.
To put it in more measurable terms, this briefly worded pre-emption will prevent those states from adopting new rules that would cut greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 by a combined total of 64 million metric tons per year - equivalent to the combined emissions of 140 nations.
Nevertheless, the Bush administration is shamelessly proclaiming its new standards as "the most ambitious fuel economy goals for light trucks ever developed" and critical to "preserving our environment."
In addiction circles, there's a word for such talk: Denial.