FC: Cato's Jerry Taylor reply on fuel efficiency and dead Americans

From: Declan McCullagh (declanat_private)
Date: Wed Mar 13 2002 - 13:46:10 PST

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    [I expect this will be the last round unless I get some truly, remarkably 
    well-argued responses. Be warned before you submit: The bar will be high! 
    Previous message: http://www.politechbot.com/p-03258.html --Declan]
    From: "Jerry Taylor" <jtaylorat_private>
    To: "Declan McCullagh" <declanat_private>
    Subject: RE: Replies to "Raise fuel efficiency standards, kill Americans?"
    Date: Wed, 13 Mar 2002 16:15:06 -0500
    Thanks for forwarding these comments on to me, Declan.  I am happy to
    comment on some of the criticisms levied at my comments on the federal CAFE
    Fred Heutte from the Oregon chapter of the Sierra Club argues that auto
    fatalities have been declining even as fuel efficiency has been improving.
    True enough.  But that doesn't necessarily tells us how CAFE standards might
    have affected the overall trend.  It is, Mr. Heutte, a multi-variant world.
    It may well be (and in fact, it is almost certainly the case) that highway
    fatalities would have declined even faster had not federal CAFE standards
    been put in place.  That David Greene at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory
    similarly embraces this "trend" argument (a logical fallacy, by the way,
    that would probably flunk a college freshman) speaks volumes about Mr.
    Greene's ability to think straight about statistics.  Nor is the fact that
    the Union of Concerned Scientists would disagree particularly telling given
    that they are primarily an activist group of environmentalists - not a trade
    association of scientists.  But neither Mr. Heutte nor the others have
    anything to refute the regression analyses performed by dozens of academics
    over the years finding a relationship between vehicle weight and highway
    fatalities.  Mr. Greene's assertion that no such analyses have ever been
    done likewise tells us about his lack of knowledge in the field.  Robert
    Crandall at Brookings has done such work.  So have Douglas Coate and James
    VanderHoff at Rutgers (see
    http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/regv24n1/coate.pdf for a recent
    analysis).  So have a legion of others (see the recommended readings at the
    end of the Coate & VanderHoff article for a brief review).
    The contention offered by Mr. Greene through Mr. Heutte - that heavy cars
    may save the passengers of those cars but surely increases the risks to
    others in less heavy cars to such an extent that the fatality result is a
    wash - does not hold up to the aforementioned statistical examinations.
    Most immediately, however, the argument fails to recognize that a large
    number of highway fatalities are one-car crashes.  Heavy vehicles do not
    simply displace fatalities from one class of car buyers to another although
    that argument gets a lot play among some circles.
    The argument that Ms. Mesnikoff of the Sierra Club makes - that SUVs are
    more dangerous on balance than standard automobiles because of the roll-over
    problem - is a similar example of sleight-of-hand.  SUVs are indeed more
    likely to roll over than standard cars.  But roll-overs represent an
    extremely small constellation of highway fatalities.  What SUVs "surrender"
    on the safety front in higher roll-over rates they "get back" in greater
    protection in conventional crashes.  ON BALANCE SUVs provide more safety to
    occupants than standard vehicles even if for one small subset of the
    incidences they may prove somewhat more hazardous.  This proposition, by the
    way, was tested empirically by the aforementioned Coate & VanderHoff study.
    That Ms. Mesnikoff generalizes from one small aspect of the safety basket to
    the entire basket of safety features at issue is, well, par for the course.
    Tim (no last name of I.D. provided) asks "Let me see if I have this
    straight.  Reducing emissions is a bad idea
    because cars will become smaller, and therefore offer their occupants less
    protection when they're hit by some idiot in a massive SUV."  No Tim, you do
    not have it straight.  Reducing tailpipe emissions and improving fuel
    efficiency are two separate issues and I, accordingly, did not address the
    issue of tailpipe emissions at all.  CAFE standards will not reduce the
    amount of pollutants that come out an SUV tailpipe.  In fact, CAFE standards
    may actually increase net emissions for some period of time because tighter
    CAFE requirements will increase the price of certain cars and trucks that
    don't meet the median standard (the only way, after all, for auto companies
    to produce the sales necessary to meet the overall mandated average fuel
    efficiency standard).  This will slow down auto fleet turnover in that
    consumers will hold onto their cars a bit longer before buying a new ones,
    keeping older cars - and typically, the most polluting cars - on the road
    longer than necessary.  Professor Andrew Kleit at Pennsylvania State
    University calculates that Sen. John Kerry's proposed new CAFE standards
    would for this reason increase VOC emissions by 1.87 percent, NOx emissions
    by 3.41 percent, and CO emissions by 4.57 percent (I have an electronic
    version of the study for those who'd like to see it).
    Jamie McCarthy accuses me of falsely reporting the findings of the National
    Academy of Sciences Report last year.  First of all, a good rule of thumb -
    never pay any attention to press releases.  Pay attention to reports.  Press
    releases are often exercises in spin but are, in any cases, summaries that
    are rarely written by the authors of the report themselves.  So if you want
    to know what's in the NAS report, read the NAS report, not the summary or
    the press release about it.
    Yes, Jamie McCarthy is right to highlight the observation taken from the NAS
    report that "isolating the effects of CAFE from other factors affecting U.S.
    light-duty vehicles over the past 25 years is a difficult analytical task."
    That's because correlation does not necessarily equal causation.  The best
    tools we have for this job are regression analyses which merely attempt to
    isolate correlations to the greatest extent possible.  Yes, it's difficult.
    But that's why economists get paid "the big bucks" (at least some of them,
    anyway).  The results of such regressions must prove consistent with logic
    and common sense or else they don't hold.  Accordingly, I'm awful surprised
    that it isn't obvious to everyone that a lighter and smaller car - all
    things being equal - is less safe for the occupants than a heaver and larger
    It is correct to note that the NAS report attributes the 1,300 - 2,600
    additional deaths on the roadway every year to the reduced weight of the
    average car in the U.S. auto fleet.  But most analysts - particularly most
    environmentalists - are convinced that were it not for federal CAFE
    standards, the auto fleet would have gone back to the pre-CAFE weight
    standard after oil prices collapsed in the mid-1980s.  So this is a
    distinction without a difference.  Moreover, it's worth noting that the NAS
    did not independently run it's own study on the subject; the report simply
    summarized the literature on the matter and offered its assessment of the
    likely range of fatalities that result from lightening the weight of cars
    and trucks (the primary method by which auto companies comply with the CAFE
    standards).  If you go back and look at the studies the NAS cites to justify
    its 1,300 - 2,600 estimate, you'll find that the relationship between CAFE
    and highway fatalities is made quite explicit.
    I am, by the way, amused by the manner in which some environmentalists can
    turn on a dime in the various science debates.  When it comes to global
    climate change, arsenic in drinking water, or a host of other issues, we are
    constantly beaten about the head and shoulders about "the consensus of
    scientific opinion" as if good science were simply a show of hands.
    Minority reports or opinions about those and many other issues are
    contemptuously dismissed as "fringe" and, well, embarrassing affronts to
    mainstream opinion and confessions of ignorance.  When it comes to the CAFE
    debate, however, minority opinions and reports are treated with great
    reverence; the existence of dissent supposedly neutralizes the issue or even
    discredits it altogether.  Now, my own opinion is that minority views are
    often correct and that good science is more than a vote of scientists with
    an opinion.  So it may well be that minority views on CAFE's relationship to
    automobile fatalities are correct.  But the dissenting opinion in the NAS
    report is, in my opinion, unpersuasive and contrary to common sense.
    Jerry Taylor
    director, natural resource studies
    Cato Institute
    Date: Wed, 13 Mar 2002 11:26:30 -0700
    From: "Ralph S. Hoefelmeyer" <ralph.hoefelmeyerat_private>
    Subject: RE: Replies to "Raise fuel efficiency standards, kill Americans?"
    In-reply-to: <>
    To: declanat_private, jtaylorat_private
    Declan, Jerry,
    We drive a 4 door, 4 wheel drive, long bed, dual tired Chevrolet K3500
    pickup about half the time.  It gets 10-12 miles a gallon.  It would be hard
    to flip, with the dualies, and is safer for us in a wreck, unless we get hit
    by a semi.  The other parties in a wreck would be toast.
    The critics of our choice of vehicle don't get it; we do not care a whit
    about the other parties in a wreck, if we are not at fault; we care much
    more if we are at fault, but not enough to take greater risks to ourselves.
    We are not communitarians.  As for the resource costs, those are driven by
    the market; we can afford to drive our truck.
    We bought the biggest passenger truck available.  The fact it uses an
    internal combustion engine was decided by the market.  If we could have
    gotten it powered by a fuel cell, propane or nuclear plant, we might have
    done so if it was cost effective and offered in the market.
    <opinions are mine>
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