George Gibbs Center for Economic Prosperity

Commen⁠t⁠ary: R⁠i⁠gh⁠t⁠-s⁠i⁠zed fuel eff⁠i⁠c⁠i⁠ency: Thank you, Donald Trump

By: The James Madison Institute / 2018

Have you ever wistfully dreamed of cramming your family into a tiny Fiat 500, Chevy Spark or Smart car for your everyday driving? If so, you would be very disappointed in the Obama administration’s fuel-economy restrictions. With an average fuel economy of 34 miles per gallon, these tiny cars fall far short of meeting the Obama administration’s mandate that automobiles average at least 54.5 miles per gallon within the next seven years. Thankfully, the Trump administration has announced it will soften the Obama administration restrictions.

It is easy for politicians to win accolades from environmental activists by announcing unrealistic fuel-economy restrictions while imposing the costs, deadlines and impossible standards on future politicians and future consumers. In 2012, for example, when the Obama administration announced the 2025 auto fleet must average 54.5 miles per gallon, average fuel economy was 23.6 miles per gallon. Five years later, the federal Environmental Protection Agency estimates the 2017 fleet averaged 25.2 miles per gallon.

A full five years after announcing the new automobile restrictions, average fuel economy had risen just 1.6 miles per gallon. Does any rational person expect the average car to gain another 30 miles per gallon in the next seven years? Perhaps, but only if we outlaw families having children or people using their cars for shopping.

Some people argue that average fuel efficiency can reach 54 miles per gallon if more people buy electric and hybrid vehicles. However, small electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt cost twice as much as similarly sized small conventional cars like the Chevy Cruze. Do we truly want government to impose laws that will double the price of automobiles?

The original justification for government-imposed fuel-economy restrictions no longer exists. Fuel economy restrictions were first imposed in 1975 as a means to conserve oil in response to the Arab oil embargo. There are no current Arab oil embargoes, and U.S. energy producers have unlocked vast domestic oil reserves. Looking for a justification to continue the restrictions, radical environmental activists and the nanny state now demand that we use less gasoline to combat global warming.

U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have declined more than 10 percent since the year 2000, even as global carbon-dioxide emissions have risen approximately 33 percent. The primary reason American carbon-dioxide emissions are declining so rapidly is natural gas has replaced coal as America’s primary electricity source. If we are truly concerned about global warming, the most effective way to reduce emissions is to export more natural gas so other countries can similarly reduce their carbon-dioxide emissions.

Carbon-dioxide emissions are rising most rapidly in densely populated developing nations like China and India. People in these nations, with air that is often unbreathable, crave clean-burning natural gas. Russia, however, leads the world in natural gas exports, and Russian natural gas is too expensive for poorer nations with developing economies. U.S. natural gas sells for approximately half the price of Russian natural gas, yet federal, state and local politicians have obstructed U.S. natural gas exports.

Instead of imposing impossible-to-meet restrictions on Americans’ automobiles, policymakers should encourage rather than obstruct American natural-gas exports. People in developing nations will have cleaner air to breathe. The American economy will benefit from more foreign money flowing into our nation. The ongoing increase in global carbon-dioxide emissions will slow or even reverse itself. And Americans won’t be forced by their government to be packed like sardines into tiny tin cans posing as automobiles.

James Taylor ( is president of the Spark of Freedom Foundation and a member of The James Madison Institute Research Advisory Council.