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Government Standards

Standards are important. For example: steel. According to ASTM International (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials),

ASTM’s steel standards are instrumental in classifying, evaluating, and specifying the material, chemical, mechanical, and metallurgical properties of the different types of steels, which are primarily used in the production of mechanical components, industrial parts, and construction elements, as well as other accessories related to them. The steels can be of the carbon, structural, stainless, ferritic, austenitic, and alloy types. These steel standards are helpful in guiding metallurgical laboratories and refineries, product manufacturers, and other end-users of steel and its variants in their proper processing and application procedures to ensure quality towards safe use.

Then follows a comprehensive list of standards for everything from bearings to chain link fences to tubes.

There are many other kinds of standards: dress standards, moral standards, food standards, security standards, drug standards, safety standards, industry standards, professional standards, and medical standards.

And then there are government standards.

For instance, Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT),

First enacted by Congress in 1975, the purpose of CAFE is to reduce energy consumption by increasing the fuel economy of cars and light trucks. The CAFE standards are fleet-wide averages that must be achieved by each automaker for its car and truck fleet, each year, since 1978. When these standards are raised, automakers respond by creating a more fuel-efficient fleet, which improves our nation’s energy security and saves consumers money at the pump, while also reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

CAFE standards are regulated by DOT’s National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA sets and enforces the CAFE standards, while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculates average fuel economy levels for manufacturers, and also sets related GHG standards.

The first standards were 18, 19, and 20 miles per gallon (mpg) for passenger cars in model years 1978, 1979, and 1980. After holding steady at 27.5 mpg from 1990 to 2010, CAFE standards were raised significantly beginning in 2011 — thanks to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 signed into law by George W. Bush.

New CAFE regulations for vehicle model years 2017–2025 were finalized in 2012. The “Clean Car Standards” were established to harmonize greenhouse-gas–emission standards and fuel-efficiency standards. The federal government reached an agreement with thirteen major automakers to increase the fuel-economy standard to a 54.5 mpg fleet average for 2025. However, the agreement included a comprehensive mid-term evaluation of the feasibility of the new standards. The 2016 review found that the 54.5 mpg projection was unrealistic. The Trump administration issued a proposed new rule, the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021–2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks, in August 2018. After public hearings, a comment period, and numerous delays, the NHTSA and EPA issued their final rule on CAFE standards on March 31, 2020. The rule “will increase stringency of CAFE and CO2 emissions standards by 1.5% each year through model year 2026, as compared with the CO2 standards issued in 2012, which would have required increases of about 5% per year.”

The administration projects that the new rule will reduce the cost of new vehicles, regulatory costs, crash fatalities, hospitalizations after serious crashes, crash injuries, and the number of vehicles damaged in crashes, while still meeting “the Clean Air Act’s strict pollution standards.” “This rule will save hundreds of billions of dollars in regulatory costs over the next decade, and it will save thousands of lives,” said Elaine Chao, the secretary of Transportation. “This means millions of new vehicles will be more affordable to consumers, more will be sold, and this will be good for the economy, as well.” EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said that the economic and societal benefits of the rule would outweigh the costs and result in “thousands of lives saved.” (The references to crash fatalities, injuries, and hospitalizations are based in part on the notion that making cars lighter to improve fuel economy makes them less safe.)

Although the automakers are split on the new rule, environmental groups, predictably, are warning of public health consequences and increased global warming because of higher levels of air pollution.

But just last month, environmental groups got a strong ally. The attorney general of California, Xavier Becerra, along with the attorneys general of twenty-two states and the District of Columbia (all Democrats), filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration challenging its moderate rollback of the country’s “Clean Car Standards.” The lawsuit alleges that the rollback violates the Clean Air Act, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.

Said Attorney General Becerra, “Just read the text of the rule and you will discover that it is a job-killer and public health hazard. It will increase costs to consumers and allow the emission of dangerous pollutants that directly threaten the health of our families. President Trump should have listened to his own scientists. America’s Clean Car Standards were doing the job. We’re going to court to defend them.”

Even though they are government standards, what could possibly be wrong with fuel-economy standards?


For starters, the Constitution nowhere authorizes the federal government to have anything to do with oil, fuel economy, efficiency, energy, technology, emissions, transportation, or the auto industry.

It is also an illegitimate purpose of government to seek to improve the nation’s energy security, save consumers money, reduce oil consumption, increase vehicle-fuel economy, assist the electric-vehicle market, eliminate dependence on fossil fuels, lower greenhouse-gas emissions, mitigate climate change, improve air quality, or have an energy policy.

But the supply of oil is limited, it is said. Americans should be conserving oil for the use of future generations. And if they won’t do it, then it is up to the government to ensure that they do it.

Well, the supply of gold, silver, nickel, diamonds, platinum, and copper is finite just like the supply of oil. The same argument could be made for the necessity of government to limit the use of those metals so as to make sure there is enough for the use of future generations. And if we really want to make sure that Earth’s natural resources are not exploited, then perhaps the government should be the one drilling for oil and mining for metals.

But it’s not just CAFE standards. The federal government has standards for everything — even the amount of water our toilets flush.

In 1992, George H.W. Bush signed into law the Energy Policy Act. It mandates that any toilets installed in residential buildings after 1994 and commercial structures after 1997 use 1.6 gallons of water or less per flush. It also mandates that shower heads flow no more than 2.5 gallons per minute at a water pressure of 80 pounds per square inch.

In 2006, the EPA launched the WaterSense program. WaterSense certified toilets “use only 1.28 gallons per flush, or 20 percent less water than the standard created by the Energy Policy Act.” The WaterSense standard is not mandatory — yet.

But there is another government standard that is mandatory: the size of holes in Swiss cheese. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced this standard in 2000. U.S. grade A Swiss cheese “shall be properly set and shall possess well-developed round or slightly oval-shaped eyes which are relatively uniform in size and distribution. The majority of the eyes shall be 3/8 to 13/16 inch in diameter. The cheese may possess the following eye characteristics to a very slight degree: dull, rough, and shell; and the following texture characteristics to a very slight degree: checks, picks and streuble.”

One cannot simply say that CAFE standards make sense so they are legitimate, but toilet and cheese standards sound ludicrous so they are illegitimate. All of these government standards are equally unconstitutional, they are equally illegitimate purposes of government, and they equally entail unwarranted government interference in the free market. They are all predicated on the idea that government knows best. American companies and individuals are just not smart enough to realize that fuel economy and water conservation are important.

Standards can be set on the free market. The ASTM’s steel standards prove it.

The post Government Standards appeared first on The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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About The Author

Laurence M. Vance

The Future of Freedom Foundation was founded in 1989 by FFF president Jacob Hornberger with the aim of establishing an educational foundation that would advance an uncompromising case for libertarianism in the context of both foreign and domestic policy. The mission of The Future of Freedom Foundation is to advance freedom by providing an uncompromising moral and economic case for individual liberty, free markets, private property, and limited government. Visit

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