In early April, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the agency will roll back the previous administration’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which would have peaked at 54.5 miles per gallon in 2025. Part of the explanation Pruitt gave for why EPA is pulling back from the Obama-era determination is that it “made assumptions about the standard that didn’t comport with reality.”
Reality would have included a serious price increase for pickups and SUVs, about $3,000 for the price of a new vehicle, according to the National Auto Dealers Association. To the many coastal, urban, and suburban liberals who populated the previous administration, that would have been fine. The whole purpose of regulations like CAFE is to increase the price of goods they think are undesirable, like gas-guzzling pickups and SUVs, and to nudge consumers into purchasing the products and services they think are desirable, such as hybrid or electric sedans with great gas mileage. But fantastic gas mileage isn’t the end-all, be-all of utility in an automobile.
One of the problems with the progressive worldview is its insularity. If a liberal can’t see why a tool isn’t useful for him, he at the same time can’t understand how that tool could be useful to anybody else. “If there is no utility in this for me, then there is no utility in this.” Too many of these urban, coastal liberals see pickups, as Kevin D. Williamson cheekily put it, as nothing more than “pollution-belching penis-supplements for toothless red-state Bubbas.” As such, they feel these purposeless vehicles should be nudged out of existence.
Certainly, owning a pickup or an SUV is not conducive to the urban lifestyle these liberals lead. Not too many people living in Park Slope or Russian Hill or Georgetown or Wicker Park will ever find the need for one. Whenever they do, for moving furniture or something of that nature, they can simply contract out for one. But the unfortunate problem for these liberals is not everyone lives their lifestyle, nor lives in neighborhoods like theirs.
I live in South Florida, where pickups are everywhere, mostly because of their utilitarian value to their owners. Lots of people fish here (I live off the coast of the “Sailfish Capital of the World” for God’s sake), and to do any serious fishing you need to own a boat. But if you don’t have the necessary scratch to rent or buy a slip, then you’re going to have to tow your boat back and forth to a ramp, and you aren’t going to be able to do that with a Nissan Leaf.
Cattle ranching, a billion-dollar industry in the Sunshine State, has been taking place in Florida since those heretical Brownist Puritans who landed at Plymouth Rock were still in their short pants. Nearly half the agricultural land here is used for ranching. You go 20 miles inland—anywhere in the state, from the northern tip of the Everglades to the Georgia border—and you’re bound to run into one of the 18,000 ranches in operation here. A rural, labor-intensive industry where you’re going to be off-road a good chunk of the time (and when you are on-road, that road is probably going to be a dirt one), it isn’t ideally suited for a Toyota Prius.
Friends of mine with necks of a more crimson hue like to hunt feral hogs, which are something of a pestilence down here. Some hunt boar using a pack of hunting dogs to track and bay up the animal. These dogs are transported in separate cages, which you can’t fit in the trunk or backseat of your Tesla Model S. Neither can the hog, for that matter.
Lots of Floridians and millions of people around the country, too, find these vehicles useful. It is no secret that the top three selling automobiles in the United States—the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, and Dodge Ram—are all pickups. That should be instructive.
I won’t get into the other economic and environmental problems with CAFE standards (Mario Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and my Heartland colleague Arianna Wilkerson have done a fine job of that on their own), but the main one is they intentionally raise the price on vehicles some people find undesirable.
If someone wants to buy a small, “eco-friendly” sedan, then good for them. If someone else wants to buy a big, “gas-guzzling” truck, then good for them. To each his own. Bureaucrats in Washington, DC have no business nudging people toward one or against the other. That is what CAFE standards do, and that is why they need to go.
Timothy Benson ([email protected]) is a policy analyst with The Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank headquartered in Illinois.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.