Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s EPA administrator, announced this week that he is reexamining the stringent standards of CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) set by the Obama administration in 2012. “This might finally bring some honesty to the issue of CAFE’s lethal effects and push the safety issue to the forefront of the debate over government efficiency mandates,” writes Sam Kazman in the WSJ.
The federal government’s auto fuel economy standards have for decades posed a simple problem: They kill people. Worse, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has covered this up. The Environmental Protection Agency, which since 2009 has helped manage the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, known as CAFE, also played a role in burying their deleterious effects. But change finally is coming.
To call it a coverup isn’t hyperbole. CAFE kills people by causing cars to be made smaller and lighter. While these downsized cars are more fuel-efficient, they are also less crashworthy. In 1992 in Competitive Enterprise Institute v. NHTSA, a lawsuit my organization brought with Consumer Alert, a federal appeals court ruled that the agency had “obscured the safety problem” through a combination of “fudged analysis,” “statistical legerdemain” and “bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo.” In the court’s view, nothing in the record “appears to undermine the inference that the 27.5 mpg standard kills people.
The Obama CAFE standards are based on what Mr. Pruitt called “politically charged expediency … that didn’t comport with reality.” The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety closely monitors crashworthiness. It’s advice has been the same for years: “Bigger, heavier vehicles are safer.”
The lethal CAFE program, in effect for decades, deserves at least one thing: an accounting.