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Free Market Project

3/1/2006 4:00:51 PM

Updated 02/24/06

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Gas Hysteria

Media Take a Bite Out of CAFE Guidelines
Government proposes new light truck, SUV fuel standards, but media highlight critics.

By Dan Gainor
August 24, 2005

     The biggest news about oil today is new proposed fuel standards for light trucks, which include SUVs and minivans. Rather than focusing on major improvements to the standards, the media highlighted complaints from critics. Here are some of the latest high and low points:

  • The real news: Give August 23s NBC Nightly News credit for ferreting out the real news about the new CAFE standards, even if they didnt connect the dots. According to Lonnie Miller of the Polk Center for Automotive Studies, unhappy drivers are looking at migrating into a mid-size SUV as well as smaller passenger cars. According to the August 24 Washington Post, the standards for light trucks would have risen to 22.2 mpg in 2007. But under the new plan, that newly popular category would reach 28.4 by 2011 a 28 percent increase in just four years. Much of the media touted small overall increases instead of that significant jump. NBCs Martin Savidge nailed it, however, saying small SUVs would have to improve efficiency by nine miles per gallon.
  • The latest culprits: CNNs Miles OBrien was the latest offender to claim that we are experiencing record-setting gasoline and diesel prices. NBCs Brian Williams mentioned the summer of record gas prices. Washington Post Style writer David Montgomery repeated the error claiming, New records have been set nearly every day for the last two weeks in the Washington area However, even Montgomery admitted later in his piece that he was wrong and just chose to ignore the facts: Never mind the inflation-adjusted nerds who point out that regular unleaded gas today is still cheaper than the $3.11 it cost in todays dollars in 1981. To get it wrong is bad enough. To get it wrong deliberately is unfathomable.
  • Environmental extremists: Several stories quoted Sierra Club representatives criticizing the new fuel standards. The August 24 edition of USA Today delivered a typical quote from the organizations representative Brendan Bell, I dont understand how the Bush administration can look Americans in the eye, when we are paying $2.75 a gallon and we are shackled to Middle East dictators, and say we cant do better when we know we can. However, none of the media explained what the Sierra Club really meant. According to the groups Web site: The technology exists today to make all vehicles average 40 miles per gallon fleet wide within ten years. CNNs Lou Dobbs Tonight repeated that claim. According to Casey Wian, Environmentalists say the technology is there to require 40-mile-per-gallon CAFE standards. And the administration is just not willing to take that step. There was no cost mentioned to connect with this theory, though one industry representative estimated that even the latest changes would cost $6 billion.
  • The free market: Amidst all the talk of rising CAFE standards, none of the stories bothered to question whether this was the right strategy. All that was discussed was whether the standards were being increased enough. Journalists universally ignored the lessons they themselves were delivering that higher-priced gas would encourage drivers to economize or drive smaller cars.
  • Why are costs so high? ABCs report also showed several reasons that gas prices are high, including 50 cents per gallon in taxes and regulations that mandate 17 different types of gasoline because of different emissions standards.


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