Declining Fuel Efficiency

Danny Hakim’s New York Times article on July 28 was a nice mix of economics and politics. On the former, he writes:

Leaps in engine technology over the last couple of decades have been mostly used to make cars faster, not more fuel-efficient, and the rise of sport utility vehicles and S.U.V.-like pickup trucks has actually sapped efficiency. The average 2004 model car or truck got 20.8 miles per gallon, about 6 percent less than the 22.1 m.p.g. of the average new vehicle sold in the late 1980’s, according to the report.

Hakim notes that this should not be a surprise given all the SUVs on the road. The economics likely go to the fact that oil prices were low throughout much of the 1990’s. The recent increase in oil and gasoline prices has led to a decline in the demand for larger and faster automobiles. But then I’m channeling my free market views. On the politics of the energy bill, my first inclination was to “just say no” to the pork-filled legislation. But note how Hakim opened his article:

With Congress poised for a final vote on the energy bill, the Environmental Protection Agency made an 11th-hour decision Tuesday to delay the planned release of an annual report on fuel economy … The contents of the report show that loopholes in American fuel economy regulations have allowed automakers to produce cars and trucks that are significantly less fuel-efficient, on average, than they were in the late 1980’s. Releasing the report this week would have been inopportune for the Bush administration, its critics said, because it would have come on the eve of a final vote in Congress on energy legislation six years in the making. The bill, as it stands, largely ignores auto mileage regulations.

If one really believes that policy making should be based on the facts, the proclivity of the Bush Administration to hide the facts until after they have secured passage of some piece of partisan waste of taxpayer money might shock you. But after four years of this corrupt Administration, I guess nothing shocks me anymore.