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Relief coming to remedy damaging fuel efficiency standards

It began to go wrong in the late 1950s when M. King Hubbert of the U.S. Geological Survey predicted that America would start to run out of oil by the end of the 1960s.

His prediction was called Peak Oil, defined as the point at which our nation, and perhaps the world, would use more oil in a single year than was discovered to replenish it. Hence the beginning of the end.

While he was a talented petroleum geophysicist, Hubbert did not properly appreciate mankind's ability to advance its technology to learn new ways to discover, extract, and refine oil. When Peak Oil did not occur by the 1970s, people did not discard his pessimistic view; they just rolled it further down the calendar.

As so, when the Arab Oil Embargo struck in 1973, pessimists applied the Peak Oil concept to drive the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (1975), which ordered the government to require automobile manufacturers to produce cars that would average a government-mandated fuel efficiency of a predetermined miles per gallon.

Existing automobile technology required two things to happen to meet the stringent new efficiency standards: Make their vehicles lighter in weight and thus less safe, and begin producing electric cars using no gasoline at all.

As the years went by, the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiencies mandated by the government were severely increased. All but the richest of Americans complained about the rising cost of their cars and trucks — costs that were, in effect, subsidizing each company's electric cars. Today, electric vehicles make up only 1.5 percent of new car purchases and that is even with significant state and federal subsidies.

Now coming to the rescue is a joint study by the EPA and the Transportation Department. Together, they have spent the past year gathering data and meeting with safety, environmental and industry groups. This information was used to assess how fuel economy requirements affect affordability, safety, jobs, pollution, the economy and our country's energy needs.

In terms of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, the Obama administration admitted its requirements would have minimal impacts.

On Aug. 2, the EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that they call the "Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient" vehicles rule to correct the previous rules. This would freeze fuel efficiency at the 2020 planned standard of 36 miles per gallon through 2026.

All of this is wonderful news, at least until all fuel efficiency standards are finally withdrawn. In a capitalist, free market economy leading the world in energy production, the U.S. government need not be involved at all.

Jay Lehr is the science director of The Heartland Institute, based in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition.