Energy & Environment

Has the EPA Outlived Its Usefulness?

While campaigning for president in 1968, Richard M. Nixon told the Republican convention that, in his eyes, the era of big government that America underwent in the Kennedy-Johnson years was over.

Nixon said, “For the past five years we have been deluged by government programs for the unemployed; programs for the cities; programs for the poor. And we have reaped from these programs an ugly harvest of frustration, violence and failure across the land. And now our opponents will be offering more of the same — more billions for government jobs, government housing, government welfare.”

Nixon also said, “I say it is time to quit pouring billions of dollars into programs that have failed in the United States of America.”

Many conservatives contend that Nixon increased government spending and started more government programs that built the federal largesse to a level it had not seen since the days of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

One governmental monstrosity that Nixon created was called the Environmental Protection Agency, now known popularly as the EPA. He established the EPA on December 2, 1970, apparently hoping to win the environmentalist vote as the movement was building up momentum at that time.

That Nixon legacy is still plaguing America today.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) known popularly as “Triple-A” had an interesting editorial in the latest edition of its “AAA World” magazine that is distributed to its members.

Wrote Allen J. DeWalle, AAA’s president for the Mid-Atlantic region: “Many a car buyer, after shopping carefully and giving much weight to promised gas mileage ratings on the window stickers, has driven away only to later wonder why the vehicle never got gas mileage anywhere near the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rating.”

DeWalle goes on to say, “The problem is that current EPA mileage tests were established in the late 1970s and have not changed to reflect today’s driving differences such as increased speed limits on interstates and increases in traffic congestion, or even the use of air conditioning.”

DeWalle pointed out that AAA “car review experts” test hundreds of vehicles each year in what he called “real-world” driving conditions and found that the “actual miles per gallon (mpg) achieved during the daily use of a vehicle falls short of the EPA estimates that are on the window stickers at the (automotive) dealership—sometimes drastically so.”

Interesting. Many of our American automakers should contract AAA to do the gas-mileage testing and the EPA should be phased out—a move that would save the federal government and taxpayers some money.

“From AAA’s perspective,” DeWalle writes, “it’s about one simple truth. Consumers want to know that the mileage estimated on a government-sanctioned label reasonably reflects what they will experience on the road.”

No truer words were ever spoken.

AAA, according to DeWalle, led the effort to pass legislation known as the “Fuel Efficiency Truth In Advertising Act.” It has yet to be passed by the House. It was referred to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality and that is where it remains today. It was sponsored last year by Reps. Nancy Johnson (R.-Conn.) and Rush Holt (D.-N.J.).

Congress should take action on this bill.

However, it looks like EPA actually got the message. Last January, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson announced in a statement that EPA would be making changes in its “fuel economy estimate tests.”

Johnson said: “Times have changed. Today’s vehicles are equipped with power-hungry accessories and technology to control the temperature, to lower our windows, to move our seats, and even to play our DVD players—all with just the push of a button.”

“In 1985, most highway speed limits were 55. Today, even if you’re driving 65, you are probably one of the slowest cars on the road. And, as anyone who drives to work during rush hour can attest, today our streets are congested with heavier traffic no matter where you live,” Johnson said.

After that bit of enlightenment that would make most Americans say, ‘No foolin’ Sherlock,’ Johnson announced that EPA would be making changes in its fuel economy tests.

“These changes,” Johnson said, “will ensure that when shoppers look at the fuel economy estimates on the window sticker, they can be confident those estimates more closely reflect today’s real world driving experiences. EPA is empowering consumers with better fuel economy estimates. We look forward to these changes taking effect for model year 2008 vehicles, which could hit dealer showrooms by the fall of 2007.”

Johnson said the EPA was making some “key changes.” “Everyone knows there are a number of factors that affect fuel economy. So, for the first time ever, EPA’s fuel economy testing will now use vehicle-specific data on three real-world factors. Those include: higher road speeds and rapid acceleration; the use of air conditioning; and operating in cold temperatures. “

“Second, we’re making adjustments to better account for other conditions that affect fuel economy. Things like road grade, wind, tire pressure, load, and the effects of different fuel properties.”

“And third, we’re proposing changes to the window sticker itself to make it more consumer-friendly. We understand that the value of our improved estimates depends, in part, on how easily the information on the window stickers is read, understood – and most importantly, used by consumers.”

Johnson believes the updated methods will result in lower mileage estimates. “The City MPG estimates for conventional gas-powered vehicles could fall between 10% and 20% from today’s labels, depending on the vehicle. Highway MPG estimates will dip between 5% and 15%.”

DeWalle believes that the new EPA tests will not be that costly to implement. He said, “As a matter of fact, the EPA already has a test being used on new vehicles, but only for emissions certification purposes. Results from a rigorous study by AAA Southern California convinced us (AAA) this test produces much more accurate fuel-economy ratings.”

President Nixon said, “I say it is time to quit pouring billions of dollars into programs that have failed in the United States of America.”

Let’s eliminate EPA. With AAA and other private sector firms on the job watching out for consumers, Americans might be better served if more of these government functions were “privatized.”