Published on August 4th, 2011 | by Bob Higgins


Disappointing Policy, a Half Mile Short of Inspiration (New CAFE Standards)

August 4th, 2011 by  

Imported Gasoline Was Available in Oregon During the Fuel Crisis of 1973-74 at Double the Cost of the Domestic Fuel. Photo: David Falconer /National archives

I’ve just been notified by one of my senators (I have two) that the administration has announced a hike in CAFE standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. I heard the news several day ago but most of us have better sources than the Senate.

I had to sit down for a minute to let that shocking information sink in. I wondered for a second or two why they went for the fraction — what was it about the last 2640 feet per gallon that so tested their courage or was so beyond the range of their vision that they didn’t simply roll all the way to 55 mpg?

I was around in ’73 when OPEC crashed the party and I can remember feeling that the oil pirates were probably doing us a favor and we would learn to conserve and begin to shift away from fossil fuels toward more sustainable and responsible alternatives. I was very young.

I was driving a car back then that got perhaps 16 mpg and maybe 20 on the highway and with gas at 35 cents a gallon I could fill the tank for less than ten bucks. Today, payday lenders are making extortionate fortunes loaning workers money to drive to work… the ones with jobs to drive to that is.

I can remember having conversations back in those days when many of us seriously contemplated seeing 75 or even a hundred mpg by the turn of the century. These weren’t pipe dreams driven by the Grateful Dead and Ganja, but by top engineers, physicists, and techno visionaries of the time.

Today, the standard for that car or today’s counterpart would be 27.5 mpg (there’s that chicken-crap half mile again) and I’m bothered by the fact that over thirty six long years of oil wars, polluted air and water, acid rain, and a litany of other negative products of our oil dependency that we’ve only gained a paltry 10 mpg to date and our vision for the future is so limited and calcified that it still  fears overreaching by a half mile.

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About the Author

Lifelong liberal of the Tom Paine wing. Marine Vietnam vet. Have worked as a photographer, cab driver, bartender, carpenter, cabinetmaker, writer and editor. Now retired on a Veterans Disability program I spend my time writing, and complaining about politics and the environment.

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  • Breath on the Wind

    This raises the issue of how far can we push fuel economy of the internal combustion engine plus transmission ( about 15% efficiency ) before the add on’s bcome so complex that the cost to purchase is too high or we need to turn to a different technology like an electric motor (90% efficiency.)

  • I was amazed they pushed beyond the 50mpg milestone. That would have been seen by the majority of Americans as a major environmental win. However, the CAFE standards were pushed 1…2…3…4 more mpg beyond that! Then, they added another 1/2 mpg to add a cherry to their sundae.

    Take the win and be happy.

    • Bob Higgins

      The “win” as you call it, is too little and far too late. The 27.5 requirement doesn’t phase in until 2025.

      • Bob Higgins

        Oops, make that “the 54.5 requirement.”

    • Mac McDougal

      I’m guessing you weren’t around in ’73, Doug, but even ignorance of that particular oil-driven economic convulsion doesn’t really explain your “take the win and be happy” attitude. This ain’t brain surgery; even children today understand that energy economics is a zero-sum game: dollars spent on energy are not spent elsewhere. The question is: do you think spending money elsewhere might yield benefits? There are strong arguments in favor:

      Oil imports take money *out of our economy. Cut it any way you want, the dollars you spend at the pump end up in OPEC nations. The fact that many of those nations are not our friends just makes it worse. (See Kuwait’s record in the UN, Hugo Chavez’s rantings, Iran’s rising nationalism and oil-funded nuclear ambitions, the dirty little Wahabist secret faction supported by Saudi Arabia, countless other examples).

      JOB LOSS
      Oil imports entail large and unproductive expenditures on “defense.” A dollar spent on defense is a dollar not spent on infrastructure improvement, social programs, civilian technical innovation, and what I personally think should be the next Manhattan Project: the complete greenification of the US built environment. We have many places to put our dollars, Doug. Why do you want to burn them in an IC engine?

      Most directly, softening MPG standards retards innovation in transport, which retards US job growth *ipso facto. The fact that the calcified business culture in Detroit can’t see this obvious dynamic, doesn’t understand the lesson of the Prius, and doesn’t see that higher MPG standards will actually help them sell more vehicles the global market, doesn’t make this obvious fact any less true.

      You may ask yourself why Big Oil and Big Auto are allowed to set climate policy. There are many hypotheses here, but none of them are based on the antique concept of the “public good.” When we let private commercial interests set public policy, we don’t let the fox just guard the henhouse. We let it design and build the henhouse so that it is, and will remain, forever unguardable. Great if you’re a fox. Not so great for the rest of us chickens.

      • Anonymous

        Wow, excellent response, Mac. Thanks for chiming in!

      • Bob Higgins

        Good job, that’s a keeper.


        • Mac McDougal

          The thanks go to you and Cleantechnica. We need you guys.

      • Mac McDougal

        Thanks for the original post. Keep up the good work and who knows? Things might actually change. For the better 🙂

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