Ozone and CAFE

Coincidentally, two related-but-unrelated items came out today.

A new National Academy of Sciences report confirms (reconfirms?) the link between elevated ozone air pollution and increased risk of premature death was released. See, e.g. Panel Confirms That Ozone Kills, US News & World Report April 23, 2008. Ozone is an unavoidable byproduct any combustion, e.g. automobile use.

On the fuel-economy front, presumably to coincide with earth day, Bush Administration released accelerated CAFE standards. See e.g. Government to release proposed fuel economy rules, Associated Press April 22, 2008.

Holman Jenkins’ WSJ Business World column, A Volt out of the Red, gave his usual analysis of CAFE, which I believe is right, and I tend to agree with. My complain is his sin of omission — does he not know about toxic pollution? He continues to berate the Prius, as in this dig “…GM intends to beat Toyota at its own game of selling bogus green symbolism to Washington and Hollywood”.

Does toxic pollution not count? Since apparently Jenkins doesn’t “believe in” global warming, does that also mean he doesn’t believe in air pollution either?.

The Toyota Prius (note 1) puts out only about one-half the ozone-forming pollutants per mile of the average new car (average is defined as being bin 5). An absurd vehicle like the Hummer H2, bin 8, emits between two and ten TIMES as much ozone-forming pollutants (note 2). How much more are H2 drivers paying to pollute the air, say, compared to Prius driver? Nothing. Drivers pay nothing. And if you can believe it, the H2 situation now is much better than it was a few years ago, in 2004 model year the H2 emitted between five and 30 times the pollution of a Prius.

And it’s not like Toyota is “green” and Hummer (owned by GM) is dirty — Toyota produces their own dirty cars, e.g. in 2008 the Scion XD bin 8, just like the H2. Though it looks like Toyota never produces a bin 11 car.

What’s the point? I don’t own a Prius. The point isn’t for everyone to run out and buy a low-emissions vehicle — that actually wouldn’t work because the regulations work on a fleet average. A constructive start would be to price pollution appropriately. This simple market-based solution would reduce the total amounts of smog and result in better health for all. The polluter, that is to say the driver, should pay.


1) See EPA GreenVehicle Guide, About Ratings. Pdfs for vehicle emissions standards, and summary/history (the glossary is particularly useful). This explains the Tier 1, and Tier 2 “bins”. This is all terribly confusing because the bin number (1 through 11) goes up as pollution goes up — whereas the EPA’s “Air Pollution Score” (10 downto 0) goes down.

2) Retrieved from the 2008 model year EPA Green Vehicle Guide.

-) Another explanation of Tiers and Bins at hybridcars.com

-) Excellent article at Edmunds: Untangling U.S. Vehicle Emissions Regulations

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