June 14, 2006; Public Citizen applauds the House of Representatives for voting Tuesday night to increase the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) budget to formulate incentives for the auto industry to increase corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for their vehicles. The amendment to H.R. 5576, offered by Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) and approved with bipartisan support, would increase the budget of NHTSA's Office of Fuel Economy from $1.3 million to $8 million. We are grateful to Rep. Bean for her initiative in achieving this improvement.
Skyrocketing energy costs and dependence on foreign oil have resulted in a national energy crisis that is burdening consumers at the pump and threatening America's national security, economic strength and environmental health. Raising vehicle fuel economy standards is a proven and effective method to address these issues.
Poor funding and the failure of congressional authority have prevented the Office of Fuel Economy from effectively monitoring the auto industry and setting the maximum feasible levels for fuel economy standards. With this amendment, the Office of Fuel Economy will again have the funding and authority to take an active stand as a proponent of vehicle fuel efficiency and innovation.
Fuel economy standards have not been raised since I issued the first CAFE standards almost three decades ago. The current car standard, which took effect in 1985, is only 27.5 mpg. If it were raised to an achievable average of 40 mpg, we would save approximately 3.4 million barrels of oil a day. In a year, the quantity saved would be one and a half times greater than our current annual imports from the Persian Gulf.
This increase in NHTSA's budget should allow for a more objective and scientific assessment on what is feasible for raising vehicles' fuel economy by 2015 with little pain to industry or consumers. In the future, NHTSA should be given even more resources to help implement a policy that is so vital to our economy and national security.
* Joan Claybrook was administrator of NHTSA from 1977-1981.