New auto emissions standards needed

The New York Times reported last week that the Ford Motor Company plans to increase the average fuel efficiency of its sport utility vehicles by 25 percent — about five miles per gallon — within the next five years. Considering the auto industry’s history of attacking and all but eliminating efforts to improve fuel efficiency and reduce pollution, the decision — apparently instigated by Ford’s chairman, William C. Ford, Jr., a self-proclaimed environmentalist — is a bold one, signaling a change in the company’s environmental stance.
Although some Ford executives consider the decision a validation of their view that the market should regulate the industry, stricter federal regulations on fuel-efficiency minimums are needed to ensure auto makers work to decrease the caustic environmental impact of cars.
With the decision, Ford is gambling that an increase in SUV purchases will easily make up for the added cost to produce each economized “light truck.” In other words, Ford is willing to write off the cost of reducing toxic emissions as long as more Americans buy its vehicles. Of course, the company readily admits this is simply a prudent business move, and though the extra brownie points might help sell cars, the decision was not intended to clean up Ford’s public image, which, environmentalists will argue, would not be easy.
Ford’s decision follows years of successfully lobbying Congress to hinder the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to increase minimum fuel-efficiency standards. The automobile industry has strongly opposed any environmental regulation by the EPA, favoring instead market-driven changes. In other words: When people want it, we will do it.
This kind of thinking has kept hybrid and hydrogen-powered vehicles from finding prominent places in car-dealer windows. Only in California, where U.S. environmentalism is arguably at its strongest, are there plenty of battery-charging stations to make hybrid cars a viable option for motorists. Some car makers, such as Toyota and Honda, boast hybrids that get 60 to 70 miles per gallon. As an alternative to the internal combustion engine, hybrids use an electric motor along with a gasoline engine to achieve such high gas mileages.
An even better environment friendly option, fuel-cell cars, remains largely ignored by auto makers, who consider the technology too expensive and at least five years away. The potential benefits of fuel cells, however, are far-reaching. As they operate from the combustion of hydrogen and oxygen, their only by-product is water, a substance that can be easily disposed of.
Another clean alternative to current engines that companies like Ford have not adequately invested in is ethanol. Although many car makers have received incentives from the EPA for creating cars capable of running on both regular and ethanol fuels, few gas stations outside of several Midwestern states that produce the corn-based fuel offer ethanol.
Recent scientific reports indicate that global warming is definitely growing worse. Despite feeble arguments declaring there still exists no direct link between the carbon dioxide exhaust of cars and the global temperature increase, the impact of automobiles on the environment is obvious and dire. If the automobile industry’s history can serve as a record of their willingness to respond to requests from Americans for safer and cleaner cars, auto makers are unlikely to lower emissions on their own.
Ford is right — Americans do want more fuel-efficient vehicles. Naturally, we applaud the company’s unilateral decision to clean up the oversized gas hogs known as SUVs. However, only federal standards will ensure that we do not have to depend on a company’s good will to reduce carbon dioxide pollution.