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Fuel Economy Standards Are Stupid. Let’s Find A Better Way

Fuel economy standards are a silly way to address the harm that burning fossil fuels causes. Instead, let’s take away the free taxpayer supported advantage oil companies have enjoyed for the past 100 years.

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There is a furious battle raging between California and the federal government over fuel economy standards. Automakers are choosing sides, with Ford, BMW, Volkswagen, and Honda agreeing with California and all the other companies electing to suck up to Hoaxus Potus and his band of climate deniers who have been suckled since birth by the Koch Brothers (or Koch Brother, as the case may be).

Monroney sticker fuel economy

Image credit: US Dept of Energy

And yet, the whole discussion about fuel economy is a charade that has been going on for decades. The primary purpose is to reduce tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks. But instead of doing that directly, US regulators have decided to attack the problem through the back door.

The reasoning goes like this: carbon dioxide emissions are the result of burning gasoline, so if we require manufacturers to sell cars with better gas mileage, that will have the effect of lowering emissions. It’s a roundabout way of accomplishing the goal — sort of like driving from St. Louis to Chicago by way of Philadelphia. You could do it, but why?

The European Union simply sets the maximum amount of tailpipe emissions allowed per kilometer and is done with it. The US actually does much the same thing with diesel emissions, so why go all around Robin Hood’s barn with complex fuel economy schemes? What a waste of time and energy.

An Alternative Suggestion

The Koch Heads like to scream about free markets, so lets give ’em what they want. While they bleat incessantly about level playing fields and no government subsidies, they are in fact lying through their teeth because the economics of the fossil fuel industry takes no account of the social cost of burning gasoline and diesel fuel. That means the oil companies are getting a free ride at taxpayer expense. How is that fair? They are the largest contributors to a warming planet and the the dangers associated with it — drought, famine, poisonous air, raging storms, melting ice caps, and rising sea levels — yet they pay nothing for the damage they do. Economists call that an untaxed externality. It’s time to end the free ride.

Instead of going around and around in circles over fuel economy standards, simply include those social costs in the price of every gallon of gasoline and let the free market work its magic. Start with a gasoline tax of $1 a gallon on January 1, 2020, for instance, then ratchet it up 25 cents a gallon every three months until it gets to $10. EVs would pay 10 cents a mile for the privilege of using the roads. Problem solved and nobody’s free will has been trampled. If you can afford 12 bucks a gallon to drive your Stupid Duty to work, so be it. You have free will and this is America, where we are all free to be you and me. Let the market decide. That’s what conservatives always say they want (until they get it, of course).

Squabbling over fuel economy standards just hides the problem behind a smokescreen of politics and failed policies. And if gasoline is fairly priced to account for the environmental damage it causes, we won’t need incentives to convince people to buy electric cars. They will be banging on the door of their local car dealers demanding to buy them. Oh, and if we did such a sensible thing, there might actually be money available to fix America’s crumbling roads, bridges, and tunnels. Wouldn’t that be a nice bonus?

We need to do more — much more — to protect the Earth that sustains us all and we need to do it soon. Continuing to power our daily transportation with products that are killing us and the planet is just plain stupid. So let’s stop doing it, huh?

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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