Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator of the Andrew Wheeler recently announced their intent to reassess and correct the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.

The announcement provides a welcomed opportunity to weigh in on how this regulation can be modified and improved.  Rural and agricultural play a pivotal role in clean air, clean water and working landscapes.  Residents in rural America are continually stepping up to the plate and enhancing environmental practices.  However, there needs to be a balance of efficiency and practicality as it relates to regulatory impact.  The CAFE standards are an example of well-intended goals that create obstacles and impractical settings that negatively impact rural America and production agriculture. 

Farmers and ranchers are the original stewards of the land. Unlike our neighbors in urban centers, we see the effect of renewable energy sources almost daily. From corn-growers that transform their product into clean-burning ethanol to ranchers that contract with wind energy manufacturers to allow the construction of turbines on their land, we are afforded a first-hand look at what it takes to power a nation.  What we don’t see often in remote towns are electric vehicle charging stations. Though there are an estimated 18,000 EV charging stations nationwide, you’d be hard-pressed to find one in the “middle of nowhere” (fondly known as Glasgow, Montana).

The previous Administration set the current fuel economy standards with the view that our nation would soon switch to electric vehicles, which remains a worthy goal for residents of urban areas like Los Angeles.  However, with farm and ranch income continually being strained, the idea that small, family-owned businesses like ours will be switching our fertilizer spreader trucks to electric in the near future is unrealistic and impractical.  

The Ford F-150 won the title of the best-selling vehicle in 2017 and represents consumers’ need for reliable heavy-duty vehicles. In farm and ranch country, the pick-up truck is just invaluable a tool as the hammer and nail. We need our vehicles to not only last through many seasons, but also to come at an affordable price. When the government forces auto manufacturers to focus on creating lighter vehicles that can meet the arbitrary goal of 54.5 mpg by 2025, rural and agricultural communities suffer.

The Trump Administration’s approach to the CAFE standards is a step in the right direction. According to DOT, freezing the current standards at the level required for model year 2020-21 and holding those standards in place until 2025 will save consumers an estimated $2,340 on new vehicle ownership. Manufacturers need time to design and develop vehicles that can meet fuel standards, while also meeting consumer demands for durable, long-lasting vehicles.

With the average price of new vehicles hovering near $35,000, many Americans have chosen to continue driving older vehicles that can be less reliable, but also emit more emissions than their newer counterparts.  The average age of a vehicle is approaching 12 years, up from about 8.5 in 1995. This trend indicates that the fuel standards may have had exactly the opposite effect than intended.

We welcome the reexamination of these fuel standards and commend the DOT and EPA for freezing the CAFE standards until a more realistic alternative is agreed upon. However well-intended the introduction of the lofty CAFE standards were, they missed the mark in their ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the road.

About the author: Chris Skorupa is the Owner & Manager of Beartooth Fertilizer Company.  Beartooth Fertilizer provides fertilizer, seeding and pesticide application for residents in South Central Montana and Northern Wyoming.  Chris is a member of the US Cattlemen’s Association and serves as the Vice President of the Rural & Agriculture Council.