Letter to EPA Administrator Jackson: Changes in Efficiency Calculations Can Help Lower Fuel Use

January 26, 2009

Letter to EPA Administrator Jackson: Changes in Efficiency Calculations Can Help Lower Fuel Use

January 26, 2009

The Honorable Lisa P. Jackson
Administrator, EPA
USEPA Ariel Rios Building (AR)
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
Washington, DC 20004
 
Dear Administrator Jackson:
 
Congratulations on your recent appointment and confirmation as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  I look forward to working with you in the coming years. 
 
As Ranking Member on the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, I have been a vocal proponent of improving energy security and confronting global warming.  I have been equally vocal in arguing that the solutions we adopt must not cripple our economy or compromise our ability to meet our energy needs. 
 
Last Congress, in furtherance of these principles, I introduced the Hybrid Truck Research, Development, and Demonstration Act.  This bill would establish the first federal grant program for the development of hybrid trucks.  
 
Replacing the most inefficient vehicles should be our first priority in reducing fuel consumption in our transportation sector.  The least efficient vehicles consume the highest quantity of fuel.  Thus, even small gains in efficiency result in large fuel savings. 
 
A simple change in how EPA reports fuel efficiency could result in a better understanding of the importance of these improvements. Expressing fuel efficiency in Miles Per Gallon (MPG), as EPA does, causes misjudgments of actual fuel use.  Specifically, reliance on an MPG standard leads people to undervalue the benefits of replacing less efficient vehicles.  For example, over 10,000 miles of driving, an improvement from 10 to 20 MPG saves more fuel than an improvement from 20 to 40 MPG.  An improvement from 10 to 11 MPG saves nearly as much fuel as an improvement from 33 to 50 MPG. 
 
A recent study by Professors Richard Larrick and Jack Soll at Duke University found that 75 percent of respondents misjudged fuel efficiency improvements when asked to judge based on a MPG standard. When asked instead to judge improvements based on a gallons-per-100-miles standard, 64 percent of respondents correctly identified which improvements were most substantial. Eliminating misjudgments will help consumers, policymakers, and researchers make informed decisions about how best to reduce fuel consumption. 
 
EPA's website and the website fueleconomy.com have already added a feature that lets users compare cars using gallons-per-100-miles.  Fuel efficiency ratings are only likely to grow in importance.  I encourage you to consider adopting this standard more broadly. This simple change will lead to better judgments by consumers, policymakers, and researchers.  It is a virtually zero cost way to reduce fuel consumption. 
 
Sincerely,
 
F. James Sensenbrenner
Ranking Member, House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming
 


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