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US Environmental Record

Automobile industry

Project: US Environmental Issues
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

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The Environmental Protection Agency releases its 2003 Fuel Economy guide which shows that only 3.5 percent of 2003 passenger vehicles have fuel-efficiency rating of 30 miles per gallon or more. 2002 vehicles were more fuel efficient, with 5.5 percent of them getting 30 mpg or better. Cars had the highest fuel efficiency in 1988 with an average of 22.4 mpg. Not one of the EPA’s 10 most fuel efficient models are made by an American company, the report also shows. (Emert 2003; Environmental Protection Agency 10/2003 pdf file)

The US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) raises the fuel economy standard to a 22.2-mpg fleet average—an increase of only 1.5 miles per gallon—to take effect over the next three years. (US Department of Transportation 4/1/2003) But loopholes in the regulations will result in a mere overall net increase of .3 miles per gallon. Though the administration cites the new standard as evidence of its commitment to improving air quality, critics note the negligible effect the increase will have and say that it represents only what the automobile industry was intending to do anyway. The auto industry has long complained that increasing fuel economy standards is too expensive and would negatively affect vehicle safety—assertions disputed by the National Academies of Science. (Hebert 4/1/2003; Alliance to Save Energy 4/1/2003; Union of Concerned Scientists 8/10/2005)

The Bush administration sends Congress a $247-billion, six-year spending proposal which would undermine environmental protections, discourage the development of mass transit systems and threaten historical sites, recreation areas, and wildlife refuges by shifting regulatory authority to the state and local level and undermining public oversight. The proposal, called the “Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2003,” would cut the federal/local funding ratio for new rail projects from 80/20 to 50/50, thus requiring local governments to pay for a larger portion of such transit systems. The bill allocates four times as much funds for roads than for mass transit. (Associated Builders and Contractors 5/16/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council 7/3/2004)

The Environmental Protection Agency decides to delay the release of its annual report on fuel economy. The report—leaked to the New York Times minutes before the decision—shows that automakers have exploited loopholes in US fuel economy regulations to manufacture vehicles that are less fuel-efficient than they were in the late 1980s. Fuel-efficiency has on average dropped six percent during that period, from 22.1 miles per gallon to 20.8 mpg, the report shows. Critics suggest the administration delayed the report’s release because of its potential to affect Congress’s final vote on the energy bill which mostly ignores fuel economy regulations. (Hakim 7/28/2005)


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