Guest essay by Eric Worrall
The LA Times claims that changing land use policies would make more difference to CO2, than vehicle fuel efficiency standards. But their “solution” is to reduce car use, by repealing the rights of existing residents to oppose unwanted high density urban development.
Under the national Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard, regulators assess a vehicle’s fuel economy on a sliding scale based on size. Regulators impose fines on an automaker if its mix of vehicles does not meet the size-adjusted standards on average. As a result, manufacturers have redesigned their fleets to use much more expensive, lighter engines that burn only a little less fuel.
Before the 2007 CAFE standards were implemented (from 2009 to 2012), three independent teams of economists and engineers estimated the financial impact for car owners. Unlike the Obama administration, which optimistically projected that the strict regulations and fines would save consumers more on gas than they cost to implement, the teams forecasted net per-vehicle consumer costs of $3,800 or more.
The independent analysts were right on the money. My colleague David Kreutzer and I examined actual price trends through Model Year 2015 and found that vehicle prices had risen $6,200 above the pre-2007 trend. Gas savings over the life of a new car might be $2,000, so the net cost is over $4,000.
But what about the upside? Many Americans are willing to pay for environmental benefits, and maybe $3,800 a car is not too steep for them. But even the Obama administration predicted that CAFE standards will have a negligible effect on global warming. Specifically, the administration estimated that the standards implemented through Model Year 2016 will lower the global temperature by less than two hundredths of a degree by 2100.
One smart reform: Better land use policy. Let’s take Los Angeles as an example. Despite a strong history of environmentalism and weather that is the envy of the world, the built environment in L.A. makes it unrealistic for most people to walk or bike to work.
Perversely, sprawl is encouraged by environmental review boards and neighborhood preservation campaigns. To allow denser, environmentally conscious construction, Sacramento should repeal the “private right of action” in the California Environmental Quality Act. The provision allows anonymous front groups to tie up construction projects in court, dissuading developers from investing in the first place. Los Angeles should also streamline its permitting processes and write more permissive zoning laws. None of these changes would hurt consumers; all of them would make residents less dependent on cars.
There are worse things in life than commuting by car.
I once lived in high density housing. It is great to be near everything, good shops and restaurants, all a few minutes walk from home, but this does not automatically translate to a better quality of life. High density living also means you are never far from the unpleasant side of life; not because a higher proportion of unpleasant people live in high density apartments, but simply because a lot more people, good and bad, live way too close to your front door. Where I lived, there were puddles of blood in the apartment elevator, almost every Friday night.
As for riding a bike, or walking in LA; When I visited, I walked in LA, until I noticed the creepy looking guy lurking in the shadows under a bridge in West Hollywood. After that, I caught a cab.