Trump Should Scale Back Auto Mileage Regulations, by Gary Galles

The auto mileage regulations should be eliminated, not scaled back, but it’s a start. From Gary Galles at mises.org:

The Trump administration EPA and Department of Transportation have announced their intent to change the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard from what was decreed by their Obama administration predecessors. They were scheduled to reach 54.5 mpg in 2025. The new target will be 37 mpg.

The rationale being given the most attention is that reducing the CAFÉ standards would reduce automobile deaths. However, that is being panned by left-leaning critics. For instance, Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik characterized the plan as “dirtier cars are safer, so lets keep them dirty.” Two days later, former Clinton and Obama administration member David J. Hayes was featured on the oped page (8/6/18) with a criticism titled, “Gas guzzlers won’t make us safer.”

However, while these (and similar) critical articles deride the possibility that reducing fuel economy standards from the much higher levels they would have been bumped to could increase automobile deaths (Hiltzik described it as “fatuousness” and Hayes termed it “baloney”), they not only misrepresent the arguments rather than examine them, they fail to consider the actual evidence for that “fatuous baloney.”

Consider the title, “Gas guzzlers won’t make us safer.” Not only is the conclusion asserted rather than demonstrated, but what gas guzzlers (a term Hitzlik also uses) is it referring to? Cars that averaged 37 mpg would be by far the cleanest vehicle fleet in American history. And the air is far cleaner than it was, meaning that the additional benefits from each further improvement is far less than in the past, undermining the argument for sharply more stringent standards.

Further, the logic such critics dismiss out of hand is hardly new or preposterous. It goes back to a famous 1989 Harvard-Brookings study that found that CAFÉ caused a 14–27% jump in traffic deaths due to the resulting car downsizing. An update for 1996 found that 2,700–4,700 automobile deaths, of 22,000 total, were attributable to such downsizing.

The arguments made in such studies are far from preposterous, either. When the higher costs of downsizing make newer cars more expensive relative to older, less safe cars, people buy fewer new cars, and increase the risks borne by such drivers and passengers. And if far better mileage lowers the cost of driving additional miles, the law of demand implies such people will drive more, other things equal. It is a matter of how large such effects are, demanding empirical research, not just a hand-wave of dismissal.

To continue reading: Trump Should Scale Back Auto Mileage Regulations

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