New fuel standards aren’t as tough as they look

May 28, 2009

 Diana Furchtgott-Roth–- Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. The views expressed are her own. —

Good news for Americans with large families or who need to transport substantial amounts of gear: President Obama’s new vehicle emissions standards are not as tough as they seem. But this is bad news for environmentalists, who want to lower the use of gasoline.

When Obama, using authority granted to the president in the 2007 Energy Act, announced earlier this month that automakers will be required to achieve a higher fleet average, 35 miles a gallon, by 2016—four years earlier than Congress had mandated—Americans might have been forgiven for thinking that in 2016 the window stickers on the new cars would reflect this new standard.

Not so.  Window stickers describe only the calculated gasoline efficiency of the model they are pasted on.  Moreover, even if miles per gallon (MPG) were averaged for all models, the result would fall below the new standards Obama announced for 2016.

What he promulgated was a higher “fleet average” for each automaker as calculated by the Department of Transportation, using a kind of vehicular treadmill to test cars’ fuel efficiency.

But MPG for each model is calculated by the Environmental Protection Agency, using a different method that purports to take account of how cars are driven.  Model for model, EPA’s MPG is lower than that of the corporate fleet average calculated by the Transportation Department.

The CAFE standards declared by Obama—for cars, minivans, and light trucks—are scheduled to rise to an average of 35 MPG in 2016 from levels of 27 MPG now for cars and 22 MPG for light trucks.

A 35 MPG CAFE standard corresponds roughly to a 26 MPG EPA standard, according to the automotive information Web site, a 40 percent increase from present levels. reports that this is met already by 29 car models and 36 truck models.  Half these trucks and one third of the cars are made by domestic automakers.

In other words, there was less to Obama’s announcement than met the eye—or made the headlines.

If he had aimed at a 35 MPG EPA standard, so that the window stickers of the new cars would show averages of 35 MPG, automakers would have had to increase fuel efficiency by 70 percent. Doing that would lead to even higher prices than will result from the costs imposed by achieving the MPG goals that the president declared.

“The CAFE tests performed now for the Transportation Department are the same as the ones performed under the initial CAFE standards introduced in the 1975 Energy Policy Act,” said Environmental Defense Fund senior fellow John DeCicco in a phone conversation this week.   “Congress has not changed these tests since they were put into place in 1978.”

These scientific tests require special fuel and place the vehicle tested on a dynamometer, a machine designed to measure fuel intake in a repeatable pattern that is not the same as ordinary driving. Plainly, this yields better “mileage” than would driving over the road.

Whatever the “real” MPG of new cars, this approach to raising efficiency has substantial disadvantages compared to a higher gasoline tax.  Last summer, when the price of gasoline climbed above $4 a gallon, Americans cut back on their driving—with no extra CAFE standards. Dealers faced waiting lists for more efficient hybrid models, such as the Toyota Prius.

Raising emissions standards is a complex issue, requiring negotiations between different government departments and nuanced methods of measurement. And automotive fuel efficiency has been rising without stricter CAFE standards, even as engine power increases, because as older cars are replaced with newer ones, fuel efficiency improves.  If Obama wants Americans to use less fuel, a gas tax would be simpler and more effective than higher emissions standards.


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Wonders never cease! For the first time you’ve written an article that I can agree with. Money drives the world and nothing but money will clean it up because no one wants to pay a dime extra. Not individuals, not corporations, not other countries, not anyone. They all want someone else to shoulder the burden.
Higher fuel costs would be tough on a huge percentage of the U.S. population but only more expensive carbon fuels will push alternative energy and more pollution control.

Posted by Ray | Report as abusive

It all boils down to the ugly fact that majority of cars (or trucks) Americans drive are overblown in size and weigh. Why not curb weigh by 30%. It would improve efficiency as well….

Posted by plaincoldtruth | Report as abusive

Gasoline taxes simply means broad taxation base. Gasoline taxation is a quasy income tax. So, she simply supports the idea that all Americans, but not the higher income groups, should be taxed more :). And this is called environmentalism :):).
What about 35% flat taxation on income from capital investment and no tax deferral and shelter loops? Would Diana support that? Or 6% universal healthcare taxation without income caps?
Anyway, we will get slowly to those points one day. Just the poverty level is not broad and overwhelming enough yet.

Posted by Ananke | Report as abusive

I agree, strange as that sounds.

However, the auto industry is already getting enough money to retool. With a small British auto company producing a diesel sports car that can do 200MPH and gets 100mpg and the technology to store energy in a flywheel based power plant that can provide power, efficiency and a 300 mile range to a real plug and go vehicle it seems that this administration is either grossly ignorant of games the auto industry has played over the last 20 years or they are in league with them. They Hybrid route the auto industry has taken is a dead end. The batteries and motors make the car to heavy to get real energy efficiency and to costly to maintain. The only reason there were waiting lists for this cars is because there was no alternatives. How is it that when it comes to fuel efficiency every manufacturer that decided to produce something different produced a hybrid? You would think that we would have seen a variety of new ideas hitting the market from all these different companies. Conspiracy or not, that tells you something about the auto industry and that something is not good. The flywheel power plant is proven technology. It was taken from our space program which uses it to store energy from solar gatherers in our solar powered satellites. It is efficient and dependable. With solar technology where it is today the flywheel car could “recharge” or stated better rev up while sitting in the parking lot where we work making it very energy efficient since it takes advantage of ambient energy which means less drain on the power grids. As for emissions, there are none. nventingthewh842 0mpg-iceni-biodiesel-sports-car-nears-pr oduction/9928/

If you just read the last to links you now understand that our auto industry is not performing to any standard the US is in current need of. This administration needs to demand that the industry change course, retool and produce the necessary vehicles we need to become energy independent. The US consumers have been taken advantage of for decades with planned obsolescence that without Japan raising the bar we would still be buying cars where the engine wears out after 75K miles. After the 70s oil crisis the US auto industry should have stepped up the plate but instead it continued to play games with the livelihoods of US consumers. For years they played the brand loyalty card associating it with patriotism to keep the US consumers shelling out big dollars for cars that were gas hogs, energy inefficient and costly to maintain. This needs to stop. This administration needs to step up and demand better for this nation. This should not cost this nation any more than what we have already dumped into these companies. Build the flywheel car right and the US could be selling millions of them around the world to countries like India and China where inexpensive, low maintenance cost and energy efficient cars would sell and sell and sell.

So all said, I agree. What this administration set as MPG goals is a joke. IMHO, this administration should have let the dinosaurs go extinct and the money that was poured into the auto industry would have been better spent on financing new and innovative entrepreneurs tasked with creating the transportation of the future.

Posted by B.Free | Report as abusive

Agreed: American cars and trucks are way oversize. Too many people have trucks who don’t even need them (when I grew up, these were mostly work vehicles).

Agreed: only a big tax will slow gasoline consumption and make alternatives competitive. This only anticipates the inevitable scarcity that will make alternatives competitive anyway–this is just an opportunity to do it relatively painlessly.

Don’t know: flywheels. Lots of inertial energy stored that could be hugely destructive (I’m a rotating equipment engineer, and have seen first hand what happens when a coupling gets unhooked! Very extensive remodelling!). Also, lots of angular momentum, that unless the thing is gimballed somehow, is going to make for some pretty wierd vehicle handling characteristics.

Agreed: Hybrids are a dead-end, and it’s ironic to watch these greenie types concentrate all those exotic materials and expensive technology into their vehicle, in the name of environmentalism!

Posted by Jeff Henster | Report as abusive

So to get rid of that bot, it is probably time to start changing the Anti-spam words.

Well, no, the new standards are not too demanding. So I would be surprised if people put up too much a fight. Usually with these initiatives the bar is set low to prevent too many complaints from consumers and manufacturers. I would be prepared for gradual increases over time. So this might be just the beginning.

Without actually forcing car manufacturers into particular markets, I believe that nonetheless this type of initiative will bring on more electricity-assisted vehicles. That paves the way for innovative changes. We are already seeing rapid improvements to battery technology. I see more of these batteries being introduced into the residential markets. So local power generation by home owners seems that much more likely.

So without actually creating much of an imposition, I believe this administration has changed the manufacturing climate. The only problem I can see is that the other political party has demonstrated a great reluctance to embrace change. Usually for this kind of fundamental shift in thinking there has to be a long-term commitment.

Posted by Don | Report as abusive

Jeff: one engineering group has developed a counter rotating power plant to avoid those weird angular forces while the flywheels are made with patented carbon fiber rotors that have passed the 200k mile trials and when they fail they turn to carbon dust to prevent the dangers of high velocity shrapnel. The Indy 500 has a flywheel hybrid running this year. The tech is there. No batteries, no tanks of flammable liquid, no emissions, built in energy recovery when braking, solar assist (free energy) with the latest in solar tech the entire car surface could be a solar energy gathering device. The vehicle would be lighter, more powerful, more energy efficient and less costly both in sticker price and in maintenance than today’s hybrids. Granted this is just one innovative idea. I am not saying it is the only one. I still find it hard to believe that the entire auto industry with all those engineers could only come up with the hybrid. Something is very wrong with that picture.

Posted by B.Free | Report as abusive

B. Free:
Like I say, the jury’s out for me for flywheel energy storage for cars, but what you mention sound like feasible technical solutions to the two problems I thought of. (Counter rotation is used for a related problem in aircraft, for example) I have a special respect for things that turn around really fast. The other thing is it will depend a lot on how much energy is intended to be stored, which will determine the density of the spinner and the speed at which it rotates.

For sure, just focussing on electric cars with batteries almost sounds like one of those preconceived notions engineered by lobbyists (remember corn ethanol??). Any of these proposals needs a full energy audit, which not only includes the fuel burned, but all the energy and resources used up to manufacture and dispose of it at the end of its life. I would speculate that if one did that on a typical hybrid, it wouldn’t be more energy efficient than say just a basic diesel car, maybe not even more than a standard gasoline powered one.

Posted by Jeff Henster | Report as abusive

That’s sad. I was worried that the new rating would be a scam. But it won’t matter as whether or not gas prices are heading way up.

What we need is a oil tax to pay the subsidies direct and indirect we now pay in our income taxes. 50% should go to a payroll tax break and the rest to help those switching to more eff cars.

I don’t worry myself because I drive and build EV’s that get 250-600mpg fuel cost equivalent.

We have the batteries, they are just waiting for orders. But I use lead batts with composite bodies/chassis and get 100 mile range and 80 mph with much more of each optional.

Baker Electric had 45mph, 110 mile range EV’s in 1911!! Some like Jay Leno’s still have some of the original Edison/NiFE batteries.

Flywheels will not fly as they cost too much and too many handling problems.

Li batts with 200-400 mile range are the future and they already cost less than sealed lead batteries.

Add to Li batts composite body/chassis will be the future as gas prices will be $6-9/gal in 4 yrs.

Posted by jerryd | Report as abusive

The problem with the writer’s column is that Edmunds is WRONG. Edmunds says a 35 mpg CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) number translates to only a 26 mpg EPA average. This is false. I cannot give you an exact figure, but the CAFE and the EPA numbers in the real world will be very close, much closer than 9 mpg. Perhaps 2 mpg. So Obama’s new fuel standards are actually quite promising for the environment, and yet still achievable.
If you actually look at the CAFE average today, and look a the mix of cars out there, and know about what real MPG you would get in those cars is, you will see that the CAFE average is pretty close to the real world average mpg. I rent new cars all the time, and I found that of the more than 100 cars I’ve rented recently, only the Ford Focus (which was otherwise an excellent car) got significantly worse mpg than predicted.
I do not know why the souce, Edmunds, is wrong, but they are. Double check with another source, you will see that I am right.

Posted by R. Ashton | Report as abusive

The fact is that none of this has to happen. We have huge amounts of fossil fuels left in the U.S., including coal (from which gasoline can be made), petroleum (especially if we start drilling offshore) and CNG (compressed natural gas.

We can achieve energy independence in the U.S., and stop importing all the oil we now import – correct our balance of payments, and have plenty of domestic fossil fuel energy……..


There is no “GREEN ENERGY”. That is another lie. NO ONE has any idea how to make green energy that does not at least TRIPLE our energy costs.

The “Green Gestapo” is ruining our country, our economy, and our standard of living.

They must be stopped.

Posted by Ken | Report as abusive

Jeff, I agree.

Jeyyrd, we could debate but it would be pointless in this forum.

Relating to this forum: The real issue is the current administration should be encouraging the auto industry to develop alternatives that will:

get us off of oil
reduce emissions
avoid toxic waste that will become a ecological issue in the future
cost less over a 10 year life cycle than today’s vehicles
minimize the burden on the current electric grid
utilize solar and energy recapture technologies

Creating a MPG goal still buys into oil based or at least a liquid fuel based transportation industry. The US consumer should be fed up with the auto industry and its games. We are paying through the nose now for those games with bailouts and high gas prices. The reason the auto industry collapsed is because it was built on these games and not on sound competition. I gag every time I hear that these new innovative vehicles will cost the US consumer. More than what we already have paid??? That is just crazy. All that tells us is that the bail out money was just thrown away along with all that money we have been spending on planned obsolescence over the years. It has enriched a few but has done nothing for our society. In my original post I inserted a link regarding a British auto company that with $2.4 million in R&D developed a diesel sports car that can do 0 to 60 in less that 5 seconds with a top speed of 200mph that gets 100 MPG. I wonder how much we could have done with the billions in auto industry bail out money.

This administration campaigned on change. I haven’t seen much of that yet. And yes, I voted for Obama. If he can’t move Congress then he needs to come to the people directly

Posted by B.Free | Report as abusive

Diana, you’re an economist. How about:
1. We get rid of the EPA, CAFE, NHTSA and all other government interference in auto market, which should be a free market.
2. We refuse to bail out failing car companies, and –
3. Let the market decide! You would see the American auto industry quickly recover, as well as all related industries (steel, petroleum, insurance, financing…)
Just a thought.

Posted by Bob in Ramsey | Report as abusive

Two words: Audi A2

Posted by The Bell | Report as abusive

In a couple of years $4 per gallon will be seen as cheap gas. Why, because we’ve already reached peak oil production. Decreasing amounts are coming from Alaska and numerous countries. Come to think of it, Bahrain ran out of oil a few years ago.
No matter what the government sets for CAFE standards the fact is more efficient vehicles are coming. Personally, I’m foreseeing an entire sea change coming when it comes to the automobile and society.

Posted by Brian Bigelow | Report as abusive

fuel standards seem to be the wrong approch.
if u dropped the state and fed smog regs, and rebooted the with the euro standard for emmisions quantity not so much quality, all else would happen.
the US auto fleet has not improved much (if at all)in the last twenty years, reducing the need for new cars.
allow the small light euro style high MPG cars to be made and sold here, and u will be providing what the people have wanted for the last thirty years.

Posted by steve | Report as abusive


A group of Spanish developers working under the company name Ecofasa, headed by chief executive officer and inventor Francisco Angulo, has developed a biochemical process to turn urban solid waste into a fatty acid biodiesel feedstock.

Here is a translated description of the tecnology:

ECOFA is a new fuel, which due to its origin, its production, and its solution to the inherent problems in any kind of organic waste, specially the urban solid waste, it is called ‘eco.combustible’ adding FA (initials of Francisco Angulo) in honor of its discoverer.

Ecofa biofuel is a subgroup of biofuels that comes from fatty acids biosynthesized from microbes and to used it in current internal combustion engines and diesel

It is based on the metabolism’s bionatural principle, by mean of which all living organisms, including bacteria, produce fatty acids. The great contribution of Francisco Angulo’s patents, this is why its incalculable economic value, is exactly that this principle is used to the biofuel’s production and comes from the carbon of any organic waste.

The microorganisms that synthesize useful products for men represent, at most, a few hundred species among the more than 100,000 described in Nature. The few that have been useful for industry are valuated for procuding a substance that can not be achieved easily or cheaply by other methods. Next it is going to be explained the advantages that ECOFA has with regard current biodiesel:

* Almost the whole solution to the problem that exists in municipalities with the treatment and storage of domestic rubbish. Moreover, the process produces methane gas and it is also left a remain that could be used as organic fertilizer for fields.
* It would not be necessary to used specific fields of maize, wheat, barley, beets, etc.. which would remain for human consume without creating distortions or famines with unforeseeable consequences.
* So, it would be possible that farmers had to use less plowing , so the field could recover, in a natural way, the lost carbon ( agriculture’s conservation).
* The monocultures’s productions are always more favourable to pests, as it is not spread (because it is not only used to biodiesel ) the risk is lower
* Possibility for town halls of the autonomous processing in its own plants that will generate and will bring wealth to rural populations. The production would be mainly in consumption’s towns, so it would not be necessary pipelines, nor ships sailing with cargo that could be poured into the sea, since the producing plants are not very complex nor expensive and any town can install it without too much complications.
* According to the environment, the use of RSU (Solid Urban Waste) for energy production, is expected to present some added benefits of those that already exist in biofuels. Particularly with regard to smells, the improve of the landscapes and the reduction of pollution in the air, water and soil.
* Finally this microbial technique can be extended to other organic debris, plants or animals, such as those contained in the urban sewage. You can even experiment with other materials such as carbon sources, and this opens up a lot of possibilities; it is only necessary to find out the appropriate bacteria and make them work as a huge army of workers without pay, eating letfovers without stopping, as they reproduce by cloning and therefore bringing more and more quantity of ecocombustible.


ECOFA by their origins, already would represent a first relief to three problems that we suffer nowadays:

* urban solid waste, that would benefit mainly the town halls which have to suffer the logistical problems
* contribution of its share to the supply of the general fuel’s demand .
* and contribution of its share to the solution of climate change problem

But there are also other connotations as important:

* Its production does not cause famine, on the contrary it would generate wealth in the areas of production. Town halls would be again favoured
* As biotechnology takes part in it, and the yeasts and bacteria produce the process, it does not require the input of energy or heat, that others need, so it is also highly worthwhile in terms of its energy balance. Bacteria do not consume energy from others while they are working
* As the biotehconology is the responsible, bacteria and yeast, due to their metabolism, produce fatty acid from any carbon source, including all the organic waste, since it can be done at any stage with the appropiate bacterium: sewage, waste of slaughterhouses, remains and stubble of the field, paper, gauze and cotton (from hospitals, for example) and any other organic waste.
* It is not renewable but multirenewable, since (CO2) that comes from its combustion, leads to the growth of any kind of plants which they do not have to be used to produce biofuels, they might also come in useful for a food cycle and / or biological, leading to organic debris of any kind.
* It is also multisustainable. Obviously, this is due to the diverse origins of organic waste, the logistics of ECOFA’ s raw material , can come from any rubbish and from any place on the planet.

The origin is in some patent, whose owner is Francisco Angulo Lafuente, that support biotechnological processes in order to achieve a fuel from remains and organic waste.

Francisco Angulo .jsp?article_id=3225 _number=09.04.01&article=angu&id= logy/how-to-turn-garbage-into-biofuel/40 67

Posted by agnux | Report as abusive