NOTE: The following is one of a series of case studies produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists' Scientific Integrity Program between 2004 and 2010 to document the abuses highlighted in our 2004 report, Scientific Integrity in Policy Making.
In July 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delayed the release of a report showing that the average fuel efficiency of American cars and trucks had declined since the late 1980s. The EPA report was embargoed until after the final vote in Congress on a controversial energy bill which failed to address stagnating fuel efficiency standards.
The New York Times reported that on July 27, 2005 the EPA made a last minute decision to delay the release of its annual report on automotive fuel economy.¹ The EPA report showed that loopholes have allowed American vehicles' fuel economy to become less efficient since the 1980s.² For example, the average car or truck got 20.8 miles per gallon in 2004 as compared with 22.1 miles per gallon in the late 1980s. In general, the report demonstrated that improvements in engine technology have gone to making cars more powerful, not more fuel-efficient.³
The administration-supported energy bill, which Congress passed on July 29, received sweeping criticism from scientists and environmental advocates for its failure to substantially increase vehicle fuel efficiency. As Union of Concerned Scientists research director David Friedman explained at the time, the energy bill "effectively does nothing to cut our dependence on oil."4
The report was released the following week, after the legislation had passed. The EPA argued that the timing of the report’s embargo was a matter of coincidence, having nothing to do with the fact that its findings could present a political liability for the White House. EPA spokeswomen Eryn Witcher stated that the agency was "committed to sharing our scientific studies with the public in the most comprehensive and understandable format possible." The Sierra Club's Daniel Becker, however, was quoted in the Times as saying "Something's fishy when the Bush administration delays a report showing no improvement in fuel economy until after passage of their energy bill, which fails to improve fuel economy."5
The release of the 2005 fuel efficiency report prior to the congressional vote could have presented the EPA and the White House with an opportunity to fully inform lawmakers about the state of the nation's fuel economy, prior to the passage of a far-reaching energy bill. Instead, rather than open its favored legislation to new scrutiny, the administration swept a legitimate scientific challenge to its position under the rug.
1. Danny Hakim, "EPA Holds Back Report on Car Fuel Efficiency," New York Times, 28 July 2005, accessed 12 October 2006.
2. "Light-Duty Automotive Technology and Fuel Economy Trends: 1975 Through 2005," Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Transportation and Air Quality report, July 2005, accessed December 5, 2006.