NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Fuel Economy Rules Trump Smart Growth

September 13, 2012

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized its regulations on light vehicles, requiring that they achieve 54.5 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2025. Assuming the objectives are met, the reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will dwarf the modest gains forecast from antisuburban smart growth policies, says Wendell Cox, an adjunct scholar with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Smart growth is the idea that societies should conceive a way to grow sustainably, placing emphasis on things such as limiting suburban housing, outlawing detached housing and limiting the use of automobiles. This movement has its roots as far back as the end of World War II and continues to gain traction today.

The debate over global warming has given smart growth proponents more ammo to continue their campaign. However, it seems President Obama's fuel economy standards do a lot more to help the environment than what smart growth proponents advocate.

  • Forecasts project that there would only be about a 50 million ton reduction in CO2 emissions from smart growth policies, falling short of the necessary amount to prevent the effects of global warming.
  • In 2035, emission rates from light vehicles are projected to be at 64 percent above 2005 rates.
  • However with smart growth policies in place, by 2035 emission rates will be 60 percent above 2005 rates.
  • In contrast, the newest fuel standard would reduce emissions from light vehicles from 1.9 billion annual tons in 2035 under the 2005 baseline to about 0.750 billion metric tons in 2035, or about a 70 percent decline.
  • Altogether, the annual overall reduction in CO2 emissions from the fuel standards would be equal to the 30 year impact of smart growth policies.

Smart growth does nothing more than try to change the structures of society to enforce and change a person's behavior. The policies would cost taxpayers billions to get very little in return, whereas the fuel standard does little to change the behavior of individuals yet still achieves sufficient reductions in CO2 levels.

Source: Wendell Cox, "Obama Fuel Economy Rules Trump Smart Growth," New Geography, September 4, 2012.


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