- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2000

The critics of 4x4 sport utility vehicles (SUV) probably wished they had one yesterday. As the area got blind-sided by more than a foot of snow, fuel efficiency somehow became less important than not getting stuck. Where Honda Civics, Chevy Metros and other small cars dared not tread, Ford Explorers, Jeeps and Chevy Blazers forged ahead.

More than mere convenience is at issue here, however. If you'd had a heart attack or serious accident requiring urgent medical attention at a hospital, the only way you were going to get it was via a 4-wheel-drive. Elderly people trapped in homes without electricity weren't going to relocate to where it was warm unless a family member, friend or neighbor had an SUV or truck with 4-wheel-drive.

And yet, if certain individuals associated with so-called "public interest" groups had their way, versatile and capable SUVs would be outlawed. Not directly, of course. But by agitating for dramatic increases in federal fuel-efficiency requirements they might achieve that result just as handily. Voters and consumers would not be consulted. In fact, neither would their elected representatives in Congress. Instead, a regulatory agency of the federal government would simply ratchet up the standards and by doing so force the automakers to abandon V-8 and V-6 engines, heavy-duty frames and 4x4 transfer cases the critical elements of a truck or sport utility vehicle. In fact, the only American-built trucks on the market right now that would meet the current standard set for passenger cars (27.5 mpg) are the two-wheel drive, compact-sized Chevy S-10 pickup and the equally modest Ford Ranger. Among imported trucks, only the smallest, such as the Nissan pickup, would make the cut. Toyota 4Runners, Nissan Pathfinders, Mercedes ML320s the whole lot of them would be banished from our shores.

The rationale for this end run around consumers is the tired old mantra of husbanding petroleum. But even archenemies of "gas hog" SUVs such as Ralph Nader, the leftist intellectual Amory Lovins, and Peter Schwartz of the Global Business Network concede that proven oil reserves will likely last well past the year 2050. So if we're not in imminent (or even remote) danger of the wells drying up, why the rush towards stricter fuel-efficiency standards that will force the automakers to build smaller, less functional, and more dangerous machines?

The answer to that is difficult to get a handle on. Some environmentalists have given up talking about fuel economy, but there is "global warming" an unproven, hypothetical danger said to arise from the increase in carbon dioxide emissions resulting from such things as the burning of fossil fuels. But all of this is very dubious. Most tenuous of all is the relationship between human activity and increases in global temperatures. Most of the warming trend environmentalists bray about occurred before widespread industrialization. Serious climate scientists suspect the warming, if it is real, reflects a natural, cyclical process unrelated to human activity. We may, in fact, be coming out of a period of abnormal coolness a "little Ice Age," the scientists call it.

In any event, those leading the jihad against SUVs and light trucks ought to reconsider not only the scientific basis of their absolutist pronunciamentos but also the very real cost, in human terms, that eliminating SUVs would portend. Looking out the window at the nation's capital today, global warming seems a pretty distant prospect. The benefits of those great SUVs, on the other hand, are as definite as can be.

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