During his campaign in the year 2000, then Texas governor George W. Bush received the republican nomination for president and was set to square off against Vice President Al Gore. During a debate, a moderator asked the candidates about opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or the ANWR, for oil drilling. Citing environmental concerns, Vice President Gore rejected the notion of oil drilling in the ANWR. Governor Bush countered that the ANWR should be opened to oil drilling that is implemented in an environmentally friendly manner.
The debate is an example of tension between economic and environmental concerns surrounding any regulatory impact on drilling. While it is imperative to have environmental protections, it must be balanced against economic concerns that the regulations may hamper the oil and gas industry.
However, environmental regulations impact more than just drilling. These regulations also affect the U.S. auto industry. For example, President Obama introduced the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) to regulate fuel efficiency for American made cars. Under CAFE, automakers are to produce cars that attain an average of 54.5 miles per gallon, or mpg, by the year 2025. In response, car makers pushed back against this initiative, claiming that such a law would compel automakers to attempt to build cars that are financially out of reach for their clients. President Trump vowed to reverse CAFE, citing the auto industry's concern.
The idea of fuel efficiency via increased mpg allows for a better energy policy. In 1973, in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war, Arab nations, angry at the United States for supporting Israel, introduced an oil embargo against the United States. This sent the price of gas soaring from 12 cents a gallon to 53 cents a gallon. The economy, as a whole, suffered from the surging oil prices.
At the time, the average car attained 6-8 mpg with highly-efficient cars attaining 17. Large trucks and the like would get 2 mpg. This meant that cars would have to fill up much more than they do today. As a result of the embargo, cars lined up around the block to get gas. Government regulations split odd and even days based on people’s license plate.
Since then, MPG improved. Today, cars are significantly more fuel efficient with cars averaging 35 mpg and one car claiming to be average 76 mpg.
In a speech before a group of auto workers in Detroit in March of 2017, president Trump declared that he would not let the CAFE rules harm the industry. He vowed to undo CAFE, thereby assuring that the EPA would review the CAFE rules. In fact, Ford CEO Mark Fields told President Trump that under the Obama standards the automotive industry would lose 1,000,000 jobs.
Fuel efficiency is very important, for both economic and environmental reasons. Economically, it makes fuel less of a factor because people do not need to fill up on gas as much. Less spending on gas means more spending in other sectors of the economy. Environmentally, reduced gas consumption means fewer toxins in the air. Clearly, we have come a long way since the 1970s when fuel efficiency was weak. While we need to develop technology that increases fuel efficiency standards, the question is where we strike the balance. President Trump believes that the Obama administration went too far. However, thus far Trump has offered few reassurances that he is willing to balance the industry's interests for profit with concern for the environment.