TCS Daily

Unnecessary Threats

By Ken Adelman - December 26, 2001 12:00 AM

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in National Review Online

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.

Their opening shot was fired in the New York Times by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of the oddly named Waterkeeper Alliance and a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In his fetchingly titled op-ed, "Better Gas Mileage, Greater Security," Mr. Kennedy advocated raising the federal regulations on gas mileage for cars and SUVs. His overall point is unassailable: Less dependence on Persian Gulf oil would indeed increase our national security. Americans would not need fret as much about that volatile region were we to stop relying upon it for twelve or so percent our oil.

After that, however, the argument weakens. The war we`re waging on terrorism began because America was viciously attacked on September 11. Those murderers - and their supporters in al Qaeda, Iraq, and elsewhere - didn`t attack us because we drive SUVs or consume too much Persian Gulf oil. They attacked us because we`re a free people and allow people to worship freely.

An old adage says that to a hammer, everything seems like a nail. Likewise, to an environmentalist, everything is related to excessive American consumption.

Mr. Kennedy asserts that had the Reagan administration not rolled back government regulations on gasoline consumption per mile (what are known as corporate average fuel economy standards, or CAFE), "we might not have had to fight the Persian Gulf War." But the argument by Mr. Kennedy fails to mention an egregious violation of international law: Iraq`s invasion of Kuwait. Nor does it mention Saddam Hussein`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.

Mr. Kennedy`s argument also ignores 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 wrongly asserts 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 1000 pounds lighter with wheelbases shrinking ten inches. The Harvard Center for Risk Analysis found that 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 the smaller, less safe cars mandated by government.

Such arguments and counterarguments would make for lively think-tank disputes were the stakes not so high. But 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 were to lose 47,000 of our soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. Yet the same loss indirectly traceable to government regulations remains largely unacknowledged.

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 principle 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 have mentioned similar attempts by non-profit 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 much more. Traditional American grit and strong defense programs will defeat those enemies - not a new round of government regulations on automobile and light-truck fuel consumption.

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