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We’ve yet another of these sensible pieces of political action by the Trump Administration. He keeps this up and we might all have to admit that there’s something to the guy. Alternatively it could just be that having sidelined the activists the adults are now able to make reasonable decisions based upon actual evidence.

That evidence being that the sort of CAFE and the like fuel standards so beloved of the American left are not only a grossly expensive and inefficient manner of reaching the desired goal they’re even counter productive. It was this sort of regulation that created the SUV in the first place, after all.

So, this is good news:

The White House announced Thursday that it is moving ahead on its much-anticipated plan to roll back the fuel economy mandate set by the Obama administration. The move is likely to mean fewer high-efficiency, zero-pollution cars on the road.

The previous guidelines, which were reached during Obama’s first term, call for automakers to each reach a fleet average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 — though with credits and other modifications, the actual figure is expected to wind up in the low to mid-40 mpg range. Thursday’s announcement means the new standard is set at 37 mpg.

Well, the complete and total destruction of those regulations and standards would be better but still :

With the goal of reducing the costs of new cars and improving safety by letting more people buy new vehicles, the Trump administration on Thursday proposed a freeze on fuel-efficiency standards after 2020.

Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation said the improvements required by the old old standards would make new cars too pricey for many American families, and that freezing them in 2020 would allow more people to buy safer, more fuel efficient cars.

Well, that’s a justification of sorts. Who knows, it might even be a reasonable and true one. It’s still not the way to do it of course:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed to massively roll back its undeniably successful car greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards while totally ignoring the technical and scientific facts, as well as its world-renowned federal, career staff. This is unprecedented and will go down as one of the most anti-science and anti-transparency actions in agency history.

Over the previous decade, EPA’s technical staff published nearly 10,000 pages of analysis strongly supporting the car GHG standards. The comprehensive and sophisticated federal automotive technology analysis was developed using new tools recommended by the National Academy of Sciences, which had never been used by any regulatory agency.

Isn’t that amazing, bureaucracy publishes documents showing that bureaucracy is doing a grand job. We’re all flabbergasted, of course we are.

The thing is, let’s go with the assumption that we do desire to limit greenhouse gas emissions. I’m certainly on board with that idea even if much of the regular readership here isn’t. So, how should we do this?

It is always true that the most efficient method of rationing something is by price. There might be other reasons we don’t at some point, moral issues perhaps, but there’s nothing about gas mileage of the car fleet that concerns those distributional moral intuitions. We just want the most effective, most efficient, method of still gaining access to transport while also limiting emissions. So, charge for emissions.

We’ve even got the mechanism already set up to do this. There is a Federal gasoline tax. Increase it. Somewhere between 50 cents and a $ a gallon and we’re done. We’ve imposed the correct Pigou Tax to meet our climate change responsibilities and we’ve done it all in the most efficient manner possible. We could, and should, lower other taxes (the payroll tax!) to make it revenue neutral.

Hey, we even know that it works. Gasoline is much more expensive in Europe, Europeans drive fewer miles in smaller engined cars. It works.

And the thing is these CAFE standards don’t work. It’s actually arguable that they have increased emissions. For there are – at least – two sets. One for the standard passenger car, another for something on a pick up truck chassis. Effectively, an SUV is a standard car body on a pick up truck chassis and, crucially, something like a pick up truck engine. They didn’t exist before the CAFE standards. They mot certainly do after them. The reason being that people wanted, as long as they didn’t have to pay the pollution costs for, those larger engines. If we instead tax the actual thing that matters, fuel use, then the price change cannot be escaped.

That the gas mileage standards are being relaxed is just fine. But better would have been that they are abolished in their entirety. For it’s always better to tax and thus ration by price than create a bureaucracy to write counterproductive rules and standards. CAFE being an excellent specific example of this more general contention.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. 1. “we might all have to admit that there’s something to the guy” — In fact, you might have to admit that Trump is almost always on-target on substance and you merely dislike his style, and probably only because your favorite movie stars do.

    2. “safer, more fuel efficient cars” — Since complying with the Obama car mileage standards would virtually force us to make cars out of tin foil, the Trump administration acknowledges that keeping our babies alive is a value alongside paying tribute to the Global Pachamama. So is even not forcing car companies to build products no one will buy and then laying off thousands of workers. You’re right, though: Even if the federal government devises a more comprehensive set of values, the federal government should not be making value judgements for us, enforced at gunpoint.

    3. “There is a Federal gasoline tax. Increase it. Somewhere between 50 cents and a $ a gallon” — A Brit advises Americans to somewhere between triple and sextuple this tax “to meet our climate change responsibilities” as asserted by foreign tax-fattened busybodies, backed by “scientists” who reported the output of computer models designed to produce notable output. Sir, go to Hell. (And to be done revenue-neutrally? Don’t be an ignoramus as well as a buttinski.)

    So it’s wrong to have government pick our values for us, but it’s fine for government to simply induce us to make the choices it prefers, rather than the ones that suit us, by setting prices wrong? Your approach is just as anti-liberty and much more insidious.

    By the way, the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards are already a Pigou tax. They do not prevent the manufacture of anything. They merely penalize a carmaker for, on average, not building cars that no one would want to buy. You can build a few SUVs provided you build enough cardboard death traps that won’t sell.

  2. Any chance the EPA can now turn its attention to removing the mandatory use of ethanol in petrol? I realise that they will have to compensate all those mid-Western farmers currently not growing corn as food, but surely that’s a small price to pay for eliminating one of the most wrong-headed green initiatives since the formation of Greenpeace…..

    PS One of the major benefits of Brexit is that we can just junk the EU-enforced ethanol in petrol laws. What’s not to like?

    • No, there is no chance, because: Iowa Presidential Caucuses. Candidate Ted Cruz could do no better than to promise not to extend them past their expiration. Governor Scott Walker pled fealty to the boondoggle; this, and state funds for a baseball stadium, punctured his libertarian appeal. Trump can’t Drain This Swamp because his commerce and energy appointees are swamp creatures; Perry doesn’t want to kill the DOE but only change its values to his own.

      The EPA did turn its attention to this, because small refiners said they were being extincted by the need to get a serial number for each and every gallon of E-10 (or pay for absolution). The only firm proposal was to choke off the market at a slightly different point.

      There are not only farmers with a guaranteed make-work market, but an army of regulators, all subscribing to the bureaucrat myth that mandates make us better off. The price to pay would not be small and it might be political suicide.

      • Then Trump does it in his second term. No price to pay long term for a second term president.

        It’s not like he can’t swing Senators and Congresscritters from non-Ohio states. They don’t like it. The Ohio ones can fight all they like.

      • Presidential candidates cannot alienate Iowa (quibble: Iowa ≠ Ohio), but even a lame-duck President cannot act with impunity either. There are corn farmers elsewhere, there are midterms, there is salting the earth for Trump’s successor, there is always the next election. Piss off the farmers and all actions get more difficult.

        More to the point, Trump has made a name for himself as a reformer, but none of his reforms have pried a large number of snouts from the trough, those of constituents or bureaucrats. The Export/Import Bank is an obvious pork-a-rama that Trump was convinced boosted American business. (True, if you are Boeing. False, if you are one of its competitors without the connections!) He did try to zero out the National Endowments for Arts/Humanities but Congress put the funding back.

  3. So are these amazing federal scientists and specialists developing new patent-free technologies for the carmakers to use or just making up numbers without any regard to technical feasibility

  4. Isn’t the real issue the use of executive orders that wind up creating great havoc in industries or the country as a whole which are supported by the president and only his <50% of popular support? I keep hoping that after eight years of Obama and now Trump that Americans will soon become heartily sick of one person being able to issue so many decrees. While I am glad Trump has reversed some of Obama's I would prefer that such power be reserved to Congress. If they can't agree and won't pass anything that is not necessarily a problem. Doing nothing when you are in disagreement is often a perfectly acceptable outcome.

    If one believes that a worthwhile goal is force Americans into smaller vehicles then a huge gas tax increase is the practical way to do it. All politicians need to do is run on that platform and then pass the tax. Personally, I suspect that would get a lot of pols voted out of office because I doubt that the sentiment for forcing people into smaller cars is all that strong in the US, but, in a Democracy that ought to be procedure. Anyways, Americans do drive smaller cars these days (some big pickups or SUVs notwithstanding). The sight of a huge aging '60s Caddie on the road can almost be jarring. Even people who own a pickup often have a second smaller car meaning that their average household gas mileage is probably not all that high even if one vehicle is much more fuel efficient than the other.

    • Government by Executive Order is a problematic evasion of proper procedure. Another one is legislation that delegates excessive power to the bureaucracy, which is what we’re discussing here, as CAFE was enacted by Congress in 1975 but leaves it to the Department of Transportation to set the levels. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_average_fuel_economy#Overview (Obviously, a President can set them tight or loose based on his own ideology, subject to the usual Administrative Law requirements that changes be justified and undergo public deliberation.)

      But it is not the “real issue” in a nation where so many people view the vote for President as a question about “who do we want to run the country.” The “real issue” was perfectly expressed by Ronald Reagan in 1984: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” (Or, if you are a Democrat: “Did the President steal the election?”) If you really believe the end doesn’t justify the means, you would not have run for office.

      The gasoline tax is delightfully simple, with a built-in bias against driving at high speed and driving large and heavy vehicles, a bias not so great to keep you from doing so if it is in your best interest. It is so well-defined and easy to collect that a large segment of the gas retailing business is sole proprietors buying from jobbers; assessment requires no study of speed or weight but only the question: How many gallons did the customer buy? to which the merchant already knows the answer.

      Your suspicion is right that few pols would win on a platform of higher gas taxes or forcing us to curtail our lives as a tribute to the planetary Pachamama. Even in “Taxachusetts,” a law providing for automatic gas-tax increases was put onto the ballot by petitions and repealed by voters. In many states, such as mine, the gas tax is earmarked for road construction and maintenance, though it is a continuing struggle to keep them from stretching “maintenance” to include measures to dissuade drivers from using the roads, such as the perennial push for a “study” of Passenger Rail.

    • PS — Further to my reference to the federal “requirements that changes be justified and undergo public deliberation”, now see Judge John D. Bates’ ruling that Trump cannot rescind Obama’s illegal DACA amnesty for underage border-jumpers because “the government needs to prove that it has considered the benefits to society of having illegal immigrants here and working, versus the government’s interest in enforcing the laws as written” (to which, by the way, Donald Trump swore an oath). (This is the Washington Times report and not necessarily the text of the ruling. Bates is an appointee of George W. Bush.) https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/aug/3/federal-judge-orders-trump-admin-restart-daca/

      • It seems bizarre that an executive order issued by one president can’t be rescinded by another, but then hasn’t the whole notion that judges are impartial arbiters of the law and not partisan advocates of a political view fallen by the wayside by now?

      • Yes, it seems bizarre. It should suffice, as a defense for abolishing program X, that program X has no basis in statute. Printing up work permits for certain foreigners is not a matter of executive discretion about enforcing a given law, but self-authorizing out of whole cloth. No judge should demand that Trump prove the worth of the Rule of Law, any more than be barred from imprisoning murderers until he proves how society is better off with them behind bars than plying their trades.

        Judges are all over the map, with varying abilities to be impartial arbiters. In a nation with Saul Alinsky channeling Marx (that the end justifies the means), there are some throughout the judiciary aiming to deliver benefits rather than obey the job description.

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