Why the Two Orders? Freezing CAFE standards was the correct policy


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed freezing CAFE standards at the 2020 levels of 37 mpg. While a bit of a non sequitur, this freeze is reminiscent of the climactic scene from the 1992 film A Few Good Men.

For those of you who missed the movie, or just don’t remember, Lieutenant Dan Kaffee (Tom Cruise) had to prove that the two military soldiers he was defending were not guilty because they were following the orders of Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson). Ultimately, Lieutenant Kaffee elicited the truth from Colonel Jessup by asking one simple question: “Why the two orders?”

This question is relevant to the EPA’s proposed freeze of CAFE standards. Increasing the standards are deemed necessary to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles.

However, according to a 2018 report by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, seven out of ten Americans believe global warming is happening and six out of ten say they are at least “somewhat worried”. Two-thirds of Californians believe global warming’s effects are already occurring.

Since a majority of people are worried about global warming, CAFE standards aren’t needed. And, as my colleague Kerry Jackson wrote about in the OC Register, nor is California’s ability to impose more restrictive emission standards.

Informed consumers have the option to purchase zero emission electric cars anytime they want. Most consumers don’t purchase these products because electric cars are expensive and impractical – even with all of the hype, electric cars are still less than one percent of all cars sold.

The purpose of raising the fuel economy mandate is to over-rule consumer’s expressed desires and force them to purchase significantly more electric vehicles – some estimates show that the only practical way to reach the current goal of a 54 mpg CAFE standard by 2025 is for electric vehicles to reach 30 percent of the market.

The small market share for electric cars despite the widespread belief that global warming is a dire problem illustrates that the costs and quality of low-emission vehicles are the real barrier that must be overcome. Instead of ignoring these messengers, and making them worse off, it is better to heed their information.

Undoubtedly, consumers will beat a path to the doors of those manufacturers who create high-value, inexpensive, zero emission vehicles. Raising CAFE standards are unnecessary. Instead of implementing uneconomical mandates, policies should incent innovation and promote the economic growth that is necessary to sustainably achieve these goals.

Dr. Wayne Winegarden is senior fellow in business and economics at the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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