- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 18, 2001

Environmentalists are to be commended for a new appreciation of national security. But rather than champion more robust U.S. military programs, some are championing more robust government regulations. And rather than targeting Osama bin Laden, the Taliban or Saddam Hussein, they're targeting General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler.

Environmentalists advocate raising the federal regulations on gas mileage for cars and SUVs. Their overall point is unassailable: Less dependence on Persian Gulf oil would indeed increase our national security.

Americans would not need to fret as much about that volatile region were we to stop relying on it for 12 or so percent of our total oil consumption. After that, however, their argument weakens. The war on terrorism we're waging began because the United States was viciously attacked on September 11. Those murderers and their supporters in al Qaeda, Iraq and elsewhere did not attack us because we drive SUVs or consume too much Persian Gulf oil. They attacked us because we're the leader of free people who allow people to worship freely.

An old adage goes that to a hammer, everything seems like a nail.

Likewise, to an environmentalist, everything is related to excessive American consumption. Environmentalists believe that had the Reagan administration not rolled back government regulations on gasoline consumption per mile technically called CAFE standards "we might not have had to fight the Persian Gulf war."

This argument, offered recently in the New York Times by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, fails to mention the egregious violation of international law Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Or Saddam's lunge for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, some of which he used against his own people and Iranians and plans to use next against Israelis and Americans.

Nor does it acknowledge the world's current oil glut, since more new oil comes into the world market from non-OPEC sources such as Russia. The stranglehold of OPEC and the Gulf region is now weaker than in previous years.

Granted, national security is not. Mr. Kennedy's field of expertise. But domestic affairs and safety reportedly are. Yet he and other environmentalists also wrongly argue that after mileage regulations were locked in place in 1975, "Detroit, predictably, figured out how to build more fuel-efficient cars largely without reductions in size, comfort or power."

Not so. According to a 1989-91 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study, from 1975 to 1985, cars on average became 1,000 pounds lighter, with wheelbases shrinking 10 inches. The Harvard Center for Risk Analysis found such government regulations account for half of the weight reduction in new cars, which led to "2,200 to 3,900 additional fatalities to motorists per year." A USA Today report has concluded that more than 47,000 Americans have died on our highways because of smaller, less safe cars mandated by government.

Such arguments and counterarguments would make for lively think-tank disputes were the stakes not so high. Protecting the lives of Americans in their homes and offices, and on the roads, must be a top government priority. Imagine the public's reaction if we lost 47,000 of our soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. Yet the same loss indirectly traceable to government regulations remains largely unknown.

Those of us who served in the national security apparatus were committed to giving American men and women in uniform the best equipment to minimize the number of unnecessary deaths. The same principal should apply to American consumers, who choose the safest vehicles and pay for them with their own money.

While the press and politicians rightly condemn corporations trying to profit from the September 11 tragedy, few mention similar attempts by nonprofit groups. For environmentalists to urge more government regulations on automobiles to boost our national security is a mind-bending stretch.

We're waging the war against terrorism for the same reason we waged all of our just wars to preserve our freedoms. Americans must remain free to purchase the safest cars, and those they considered the most fun to drive.

Environmentalists must remain free to present their views and organize to preserve our natural heritage. Those who attacked the Pentagon and World Trade Center threaten all this, and so much more. We'll defeat that enemy with traditional American grit and strong defense programs, rather than a new round of government regulations on automobile and light truck fuel consumption.

Kenneth Adelman was an arms control director in the Reagan administration.

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