Column: Weakened fuel standards wrong turn


As industry leaders gathered in Detroit last week for a conference on vehicle fuel economy, the Trump administration has said it is poised to roll back the standards that make cars go farther on less gas and save consumers money.

But further improving fuel economy is actually a no-brainer. While the administration highlights the cost of improvements, the evidence shows that benefits of the new standards far outweigh them. Reasonable, well-paced and structured fuel economy gains help drive economic growth, including auto sales, and keep more money in consumers’ pockets.

The details confirm this is a win-win for the economy, environment and consumers. The Environmental Protection Agency’s recently completed report was based on thousands of hours of research and analysis, concluding that the standards provide net savings of billions of dollars in fuel costs.

Our own analysis showed that the new fuel economy rules would save consumers $3,200 per car and $4,800 per truck over the life of a vehicle designed to meet the standard set for 2025. And that’s assuming that today’s low gas prices continue for decades to come. If fuel prices shoot up, the savings would be substantially higher.

Contrary to the automakers’ claims, consumers are interested in better fuel economy even in times of low prices at the pump. When vehicles go farther on less gas, it gives consumers more options that fit their needs. Rather than pushing consumers toward smaller vehicles, EPA’s standards, which flex based on shifts in the vehicle fleet overall, merely encourage greater efficiencies in the vehicles consumers want. The proof is in the sales figures: under the standards over the past several years, automakers sold more efficient cars that buyers want, achieving record sales and large profits.

Surveys, including ours, show that a vast majority of consumers today (nearly 85 percent) want greater fuel efficiency in their next vehicle, whether it is a sedan, crossover, large SUV or pickup. Moreover, higher fuel economy standards contribute to both consumer flexibility and market growth. For example, according to EPA’s latest fuel economy trends report, the fastest improvements in fuel economy, when sorted by type of vehicle, are occurring in small and medium-sized SUVs. That progress facilitates and could further accelerate the shift to crossovers and mid-size SUVs.

Moreover, rolling back fuel economy standards as the president has said he plans to do puts consumers at risk. Gas prices are low today, but what about tomorrow? Supply disruptions, international turmoil or other factors could result in prices shooting back up to $4/gallon or higher, raising the prices of consumer goods and making it more expensive for people to travel or go to work.

We are urging the administration to leave the current standards in place for the good of consumers, the economy and the auto industry.

Shannon Baker-Branstetter is the energy policy counsel for Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports.