On the same day OPEC announced it would cut crude oil production and raise prices to $18 a barrel, a Presidential Task Force on Regulatory Relief chaired by Vice President George Bush issued a proposal to abolish to corporate

average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for new automobiles.

The coincidence of these events is ironic. The task force's misguided proposal is symptomatic of the shortsighted national energy policy paralyzing our federal government. It is a policy lacking either direction or focus, based largely on blind faith in the "free market" and a silly trust in the good intentions of our "allies" in the Persian Gulf.Abolishing CAFE standards under the guise of regulatory reform would be grossly counterproductive, compromising our commitment to energy efficiency and, in view of OPEC's resurgence, our national security. It would send a bad signal at the wrong time that the United States has lost interest in improving the energy efficiency of its largest petroleum-consuming sector, transportation.

CAFE standards, which require auto manufacturers to build fuel-efficient vehicles, have permitted motorists across the nation to maintain their mobility without consuming more expensive petroleum products.

Although vehicle-miles of travel in New York State increased 6 billion miles between 1979 and 1983, gasoline consumption under the CAFE standards fell by approximately 500 million gallons. An increase in fuel consumption spurred by less efficient automobiles, coupled with our nation's increasing dependence on foreign oil, can only worsen the United States' trade deficit and decrease the disposable income available to our citizens.

Despite protests to the contrary, the U.S. auto industry has demonstrated that fuel economy standards are economically attainable. A look at the model mix and sales record of Chrysler Corp. proves consumer demand can be satisfied without sacrificing energy efficiency or fuel economy.

Instead of regressive activity, such as the proposed CAFE wipeout, we need to improve the nation's energy profile while the opportunity still exists.

This includes not only keeping fuel economy standards in place but pursuing additional efforts to reduce fuel consumption in the transportation sector - ride sharing, traffic signal timing, improvements in vehicle fleet operations and mechanic education programs.

But even more important is the danger a CAFE abolition would pose to our national security. The recommendation of the presidential task force can only foster a dangerous complacency on the part of consumers, contribute to a comeback of OPEC and hasten the next energy crisis.

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