The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation have opened a public comment period on the rewriting of a set of guidelines known as the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. Since the 1970s, these guidelines have sought to limit the ability of manufacturers to produce heavy duty trucks in favor of lighter, hybrid models in the name of reducing our carbon footprint. The previous administration tightened these rules even further, calling for an increased reliance on electric vehicles.
These lighter vehicles may work for residents of urban areas across the country, but in Montana, we need vehicles that fit our needs and climate. Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte can engage in this debate and protect the ability of Montana residents to purchase the type of vehicle that meets the needs of living and working in this state.
The CAFE standards are designed to keep manufacturers engaged in the design and production of vehicles with lower greenhouse gas emission and higher fuel economy. However, in that pursuit of sustainability, the functionality of these vehicles is lost. Montana residents, especially, need vehicles that manage well in adverse weather conditions and can carry out the jobs of agriculture and industry across the state. Gas stations can be limited on long rural drives in Montana, and electric recharging stations even more so. Progress will continue on fuel efficiency and standards, but mandates that create unneeded barriers need to be addressed.
It is unreasonable to believe that we will achieve the CAFE standards’ target goal of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, when cars on the road in 2016 could only reach an average of 24.7 miles per gallon. We would need to sacrifice many of the features that make a quality, and reliable, work truck in order to reach that goal – including affordability and functionality. Americans are increasingly choosing to purchase new pickups and SUVs at the dealership over other makes and models, further proving that our nation favors vehicles that can get the job done. In 2017, 60 percent of the vehicles sold were trucks and SUVs.
The federal government should be focusing federal dollars on improving our current infrastructure, not installing the many electric car charging stations that would be needed under tougher CAFE standards. It was good to see progress made earlier this year that would leverage federal, state, local and private dollars to “give Americans the working, modern infrastructure they deserve.” We need to address our crumbling infrastructure before pursuing initiatives that undercut efficiency and miss the mark for US productivity.
As past president of the Montana Association of Counties and former Carbon County commissioner, I know firsthand the impact that misguided regulations can have on local economies. For many of the issues that impact our region, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer. The same is true with attempting to enforce one set of standards across an entire market of vehicles and consumer needs. Montanans need affordable, appropriate, and available work trucks that meet the demands of their industry – whether that be skilled laborers, construction workers, or farmers and ranchers.