Stalled automakers need a push

Policymakers spin their wheels while automakers lobby

With consumers’ eyes on the odometer and car makers’ eyes on the bottom line, Congress becomes the decision maker.

With consumers’ eyes on the odometer and car makers’ eyes on the bottom line, Congress becomes the decision maker.

Sen. John Ensign
U.S. Senate
Washington D.C. 20510

Sen. Harry Reid
U.S. Senate
Washington D.C. 20510

Rep. Dean Heller
U.S. House
Washington D.C. 20515

Legislation for increased auto-fuel economy once again needs congressional approval. Motivated by my fears for the planet, I wrote Congressman Dean Heller to urge his support.

Heller acknowledged the skyrocketing cost of gas and said he wants to see more fuel-efficient vehicles on the road. However, he’s “somewhat wary of imposing arbitrary government mandates on the automotive industry.”

Dan Geary, Nevada spokesperson for the National Environmental Trust, says protecting the planet isn’t something we can choose not to do.

“It’s irresponsible to say that increasing auto-fuel economy standards is arbitrary,” he says.

Gas prices and U.S. consumption of gasoline are rising dramatically. Geary says these two factors contribute to a convergence of need for increased auto fuel efficiency. He also cites consumer budgets, emissions reduction and national security as reasons forcing government to compel auto manufacturers to increase fuel efficiency.

“We cannot drill ourselves into security because the U.S. only has 3 percent drillable oil reserves,” Geary says. “Every single minute in Nevada, we send $3,044 overseas for foreign oil.”

Reducing consumption worked in 1975 when auto efficiency standards were first enacted. In a decade, cars increased efficiency by 70 percent and trucks by 50 percent.

One hundred vehicles on the U.S market have highway ratings of 30 miles per gallon or more, Heller says. “Manufacturers have been responding without government intervention.”

Since 1985, efficiency standards for cars have stagnated at 27.5 mpg, while light trucks and SUV’s have stalled at 20.7 mpg. An enormous market for SUVs exists, but sport utility vehicles are among the most inefficient of automobiles.

And the market is also seeking change—a Consumer Reports survey in March indicated that more than a third of consumers were considering trading in their cars for more fuel-efficient models, particularly hybrids. Sales figures tend to support that finding.

Other opinion surveys have indicated that 75 percent of drivers in the U.S. support increased fuel-efficiency standards—and that was before gas prices soared.

Technology for seatbelts and airbags existed years before federal mandates made them standard equipment. “The public understands that we have the technology and know-how,” Geary says. “All that stands is the way is the auto industry and its apologists in government.”

To express yourself on this subject to Nevada’s congressmembers, write to them at the addresses in the above right column.