Once again, the administration, some members of Congress, and the U.S. automotive industry are being very short-sighted. There is a proposal being made to lower the gas mileage required for new cars by as much as a mile per gallon.
Hearings are scheduled in September to reduce the 27.5 mpg floor mandated by current law - a law that Secretary of Transportation Jim Burnley calls "a dinosaur that should be extinct." The proposal is applauded by the auto industry, which has fought against the standard ever since it was adopted in 1975 after the oil crisis.In fact, some of the industry giants have repeatedly petitioned for - and received - lower mileage standards. The only excuse is that manufacturers make bigger profits per car on bigger cars.
Yet this push for immediate profit at the expense of the future is a recipe for disaster in the long run. What is the matter with these people that they are unable to recognize some basic facts? For example:
- Larger cars and lower mileage means that the U.S. uses more oil, oil that must be imported, hurting the balance of trade and putting the country more at the mercy of foreign suppliers.
- American dependency on imported oil already is rising. Returning to production of gas guzzlers will speed up that process.
- Foreign production of fuel-efficient cars nearly caused the collapse of the domestic auto industry in the 1970s and early 1980s. The industry still hasn't recaptured the market it lost to others, principally Japan. Japanese cars easily meet the mileage standard.
- Oil is not an unlimited resource. The hard truth is that world oil supplies are running out and those in the U.S. may be among the first to be depleted. It only makes sense to conserve as much as possible, not splurge for some short-term profit.
The oil crisis of the 1970s has not been solved. It has only faded away temporarily. The present oil glut will not last. And when the crunch comes again, American motorists will be buying those efficient little foreign cars, while American auto makers will be closing plants, laying off people, and crying for help against the imports.
Then it won't be the mileage law that is an "extinct dinosaur," but the U.S. auto industry.