This past week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) unveiled their comprehensive plan to regulate the fuel efficiency of all cars and light trucks that operate in the United States. The operative measure for these calculations is known as the corporate average fuel economy (or CAFE) standard.
Congress first introduced the CAFE program in the aftermath of the Arab oil embargo that was imposed following the 1973 Yom Kippur war. The ostensible purpose was to force an increase in domestic fuel economy that would reduce the United States dependency on imported oil from the Middle East. The energy and automotive landscapes have changed much in the ensuing 38 years. Now, the dominant justification for tightening the CAFE standards is no longer to counter our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, but to secure technical innovation and control air pollution, including pollution attributable to carbon dioxide. The CAFE program fails on all three counts.