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Consumers Union Activism

January 2nd, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

I find it a source of endless amusement when “activists” opine endlessly for the requirement for governmental intervention to serve the public interest.

As an example, take this email exchange with Consumers Union regarding fuel economy regulations.

Originally, I received via email this from Jim Guest, President, Consumers Union of the U.S.:

From: Consumer Report Advocacy

Subject: Reduce your gasoline costs!

Date: March 28, 2007 9:34:05 AM PDT

To: Ron Bischof

Reply-To: Jim_Guest@email.consumerreports.org

Dear Ron,

Do you pay thirty, forty, fifty dollars every time you gas up the car?

Automakers know how to make their cars more fuel efficient, but have been slow to do
so, in part because American minimum gas mileage standards for cars haven’t been
updated in more than 20 years.

Tell Congress to update gas mileage standards and reduce our gasoline bills!

Consumer Reports latest auto issue, on the shelves now, identifies key technologies
that can reduce your cost of gasoline. Higher-tech multivalve engines, improved fuel
injection, and upgrades to five or six speed automatic transmissions all improve fuel
economy and performance.

U.S. automakers pay lip service to fuel economy, but have not made real strides. With
gas prices rising above $3 per gallon in some parts of the country, it’s time to make fuel
efficiency a national priority.

Tell your Congressional lawmakers from California to vote YES for updated gas mileage
standards now!

After you take action, please take another moment to forward this email to friends and
family who also need better cars with better gas mileage. The two minutes you take now
will help us pass this key improvement in 2007.


Jim Guest

President, Consumers Union of the U.S.

101 Truman Avenue

Yonkers, NY 10703-1057

To which I responded:

From: Ron Bischof

Subject: Re: Reduce your gasoline costs!

Date: March 28, 2007 10:16:23 AM PDT

To: Jim_Guest@email.consumerreports.org


As a “consumer” advocacy organization, why not let consumers and markets decide?
Empirical data aptly demonstrates that they are far more intelligent than Congress and
special interests.

Example: Sales of crossover SUVs are increasing while truck based models are
declining as automakers respond to market forces. No legislation required.

Then simplistic email below fails to note how much safer vehicles are today
(with the inherent weight penalties) than 20 years ago while managing respectable
mileage ratings in most vehicle categories.

As a Consumer Reports Magazine and online subscriber, I’m interested in consumer
product and safety information, not the political lobbying screeds of the parent
company with populist subject lines that defy logic.


Ron Bischof

And received this in response:

From: action@cu.consumer.org

Subject: Re: Reduce your gasoline costs! (Fwd By Digital Impact)

Date: April 5, 2007 8:21:03 AM PDT

To: Ron Bischof

Thank you for your response to Consumers Union’s latest action item. We can appreciate the concerns you have raised, however, we wish to make several points in response.

At the time of OPEC’s first oil embargo over 30 years ago, America was 30% dependent on foreign oil. Today, that number has doubled to an all-time high of 60%, Technological advances allow us today to increase fuel efficiency standards to 35 miles per gallon without compromising passenger safety or choice. We must ensure that fuel economy standards keep pace with technological developments; otherwise we run the risk that automobiles will replicate the fuel economy stagnation of the past 2 decades and thus increase our dependence on foreign oil.

We have a further problem – greenhouse gases that have contributed to global warming. 22 percent of our nation’s emissions of carbon dioxide come from cars and trucks. If we make these vehicles more efficient, we help reduce greenhouse gas emission.

The bipartisan bills Consumers Union backs in Congress will back out every drop of oil currently imported from the Persian Gulf by 2022, and by 2030, and, as the fleet becomes more fuel efficient, it backs out almost 40% of our projected highway oil needs.

When Consumers Union attended a recent press conference to announce one of the bills, we noted that top experts in foreign affairs and national security were in attendance and supporting the bill: , R. James Woolsey, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and Vice President of Booz Allen Hamilton and retired Lt. General William E. Odom, former Director, National Security Agency and now adjunct Professor at Yale University.

Both these men talked about the threat to our national security from dependence on foreign oil and called these bills a matter of patriotism as well as the right thing to do.

While we may disagree on the importance of limiting fuel efficiency and increasing CAFÉ standards, we hope you have a better understanding about how Consumers Union arrived at decision to back efforts to improve the fuel efficiency of US vehicles. Thank you for your interest and concern.


Melissa Trevino

Consumers Union

506 West 14th, Suite A

Austin, Texas 78701


To which I replied:

From: Ron Bischof

Subject: Re: Reduce your gasoline costs! (Fwd By Digital Impact)

Date: April 11, 2007 11:57:22 AM PDT

To: action@cu.consumer.org

Ms. Tevino:

Thank you for the courtesy of your response.

I found your perspective interesting, specifically that I was in need of additional information. In that spirit, I hope you’ll indulge me when I respond in kind (with references) while staying on topic. I’ll also add that I’m certified in Six Sigma methodologies and have no connection to the auto or energy industries and their suppliers.

Firstly, it’s notable that nothing in your reply addressed the substance of my correspondence, namely that markets and technology are the best mechanisms for addressing the energy requirements of the consumers they serve. Instead, you presented statistics that purportedly require top down government intervention and no doubt the wisdom of NGOs like Consumers Union and Washington insiders Messieurs Woolsey and Odom that share the affinity for government control and the attendant government contractor profits. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Booz_Allen_Hamilton

I’ll provide an example that aptly demonstrates my point and refutes Consumers Union’s position: Airline deregulation. Begun in 1978 during the Carter Presidency, the long-term sustainable benefits of competition and the resulting consumer benefits are well documented. The corresponding energy benefits of super efficient turbojet engines, incorporation of composites in airliner construction and advanced avionics were driven by markets and consumer travel demand, not government regulations. Professor Kahn notes: “It also was part of a broader movement that, with varying degrees of thoroughness, transformed such industries as trucking, railroads, buses, cable television, stock exchange brokerage, oil and gas, telecommunications, financial markets, and even local electric and gas utilities.” http://www.econlib.org/LIBRARY/Enc/AirlineDeregulation.html

Please contrast this with the regulatory “success” of CAFE regulations. And yet Consumers Union advocates more of the same! Is it possible that advice includes chasing the ephemeral by increasing oversight, closing loopholes and increasing petroleum taxation to force consumers to conform? That would be an extraordinary position for a consumer advocacy organization! http://www.commondreams.org/news2004/0407-03.htm

This brings some questions to mind: Has Consumers Union or any NGO you’re aligned with performed a cost/benefit analysis on increasing the CAFE standard to 35 mpg? And if so, what the net effect would be to our struggling domestically based auto companies as they refocus the majority of R&D spending from introducing models consumers actually want to buy to meeting fuel economy standards? And how will the added compliance costs impact consumers and product demand?

Before I address the stalking horses of foreign oil and global warming, allow me to point out the obvious: Growing economies need energy and conservation alone will not meet the energy needs of our dynamic nation. In the time period that you cite, the U.S.A. share of global GDP has grown from 25% to the current 30%! It’s not surprising, given the hostile business environment domestic energy producers face in the U.S., that energy imports have increased from sources that will meet our energy demand while meeting few of our environmental requirements.

Regarding foreign oil, the new modus operandi is to focus on energy security and oil imports from the Persian Gulf. And yet, it would surprise many that the majority of our petroleum imports are not sourced from that region. In fact, D.O.E. statistics reveal that less than 25% are sourced from the Middle East. Are Canada and Mexico national security threats?

US Petroleum Imports.pdf

Source: http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/oil_gas/petroleum/data_publications/company_level_imports/current/import.html

On the topic of global warming*, I’ll assume you mean anthropogenic and rather than contribute to the latest in the succession of “global crises” that require immediate governmental action, i.e. population explosion, mass starvation, avian flu, mass extinction, global cooling**, etc., I’ll simply state that market mechanisms and technology have the best track record of success in solving problems that demonstrably exist.

In closing, I hope Consumers Union has a better understanding of my data driven positions on market solution superiority and populist skepticism vs. government centric activism. I’ll reiterate what I originally stated in my correspondence to Mr. Guest: As a Consumer Reports Magazine and online subscriber, I’m interested in consumer product and safety information, not the political lobbying screeds of the parent company with populist subject lines that defy logic.


Ron Bischof

*Media reports of scientific “consensus” are always cause for gales of laughter. Note Galileo Galilei’s heliocentric observations, the germ theory of disease, H. pylori causation of peptic ulcers, etc. and the “consensus” they enjoyed upon introduction. Science isn’t established by vote but by data gathered via the scientific method. And theories can always be challenged with new data (if it isn’t censored or defunded).


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