The Mercatus Center at Virginia's George
Mason University reports that businesses with 100 employees or
less spend a whopping $2,500 per employee simply to comply with
This doesn't count state or local regulations, or taxes.
Now a major environmental organization
says any of these businesses - or individuals - that take perfectly-legal
tax deductions for the business use of large vehicles should also
undergo costly tax audits.
In a February 11 press release, the Sierra
Club claims "a growing number of individuals" are taking
tax deductions on sports utility vehicles (SUVs) "for what
may be personal - not business - use." The environmental
organization says it sent a letter to the IRS urging it to "aggressively
audit" the returns of taxpayers who claim deductions for
the business use of SUVs.1
The Sierra Club doesn't say why it believes
SUV owners are more likely to be tax cheats than anyone else,
or even if it really believes this.
Nor does it estimate the possible economic
loss to the taxpayers if bona fide tax cheaters get away with
malfeasance because the limited number of IRS auditors are busy
pouring over the accounting books of SUV owners.
Ironically, it was an environmentalist-backed
measure, corporate average fuel economy standards, better known
as CAFE standards, that caused the invention of the SUV in the
first place. After environmentalists convinced the government
in 1975 to place mileage limits on vehicles, with higher limits
for those on truck beds, only persons unacquainted with the law
of supply and demand would have failed to expect the invention
Now some environmentalists act as if a
mom or dad using an SUV to take her kids to school is only one
step less anti-American than Osama Bin Laden,2 even though
environmentalist lobbying is why many parents aren't using station
A Sierra Club web page, "Driving
Up the Heat: SUVs and Global Warming," asserts "When
it comes to wasting energy, SUVs are unrivaled. Built with outdated,
gas-guzzling technology, many SUVs get just 13 miles per gallon."3
But the energy use of SUVs can't possibly
be "unrivaled" and the term "many SUVs" is
so vague one can't help but wonder if the Sierra Club is hoping
the public will believe the number is greater than it truly is.
Of 269 year-2003 SUV models examined by
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 34 (12.6 percent)
get 13 mpg or less in city driving and only ten (3.7 percent)
get 13 mpg or less on highways.4
Of the 34, more than half - 19 - were
versions of the Chevrolet Suburban or Tahoe or the GMC Yukon.
All ten of the SUVs rated by the EPA as receiving 13 mpg or less
during highway driving were Suburbans, Tahoes or Yukons.
Environmentalists will tell you all about
SUV safety, as long as you only want to hear about rollovers.
If you buy a small vehicle and then crash
into a wall, don't expect an environmentalist organization to
help your heirs pay your funeral bill.
Another authoritative-sounding Sierra
Club webpage, "Driving Up the Heat: SUVs and Global Warming:
Worsening the Threat of Global Warming,"5 contains a series
of hyperbolic claims. Readers are led to believe that SUVs are
significantly responsible for sea level rises (ongoing for approximately
14,985 years before the first SUV was invented), the melting of
ice sheets from the last ice age and melting ever since (expected
to continue for another 6,000 years) and even for "infectious-disease
outbreaks linked to global warming [that] shut down Disney World."
With epidemiological knowledge like that,
before long we might expect the Sierra Club to cure the common
The Sierra Club might do well to switch
fields at that, because it has been using computer models to predict
global warming, and the predictions aren't coming true.
In testimony before the U.S. Senate, one
of the world's leading climate scientists, Dr. S. Fred Singer,
has noted that satellite data show no appreciable warming of the
global atmosphere since 1979. Data from balloons, he says, confirm
the satellite data, while reliable thermometer records of surface
temperatures for the continental U.S. show no appreciable warming
since about 1940. Tree-ring records for Siberia and Alaska and
published ice-core records show no warming since 1940.6
If the planet were to experience global
warming, the naturally-occurring sea level rise might slow, due
to increased snow accumulation at the poles.
For reasons likely related to its own
biases, the Sierra Club seems to place more credibility in relatively
crude computer models predicting future global warming than in
actual temperature measurements. It is free to do so. This does
not mean, however, that SUV owners are more likely than other
taxpayers to cheat on their taxes.
Amy Ridenour is president of
The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington,
D.C. think tank. Comments may be sent to [email protected].
1 "Sierra Club to IRS:
Audit Gas-Guzzling SUVs," press release, Sierra Club, San
Francisco, California, available at http://lists.sierraclub.org/SCRIPTS/WA.EXE?A2=ind0302&L=ce-scnews-releases&D=1&T=0&H=1&O=D&F=&S=&P=765
as of February 11, 2003.
2 See the Detroit Project at http://www.thedetroitproject.com/,
an environmentalist website that on February 20, 2002, led with
the headline: "Tell Detroit their gas-guzzlers help terrorists
3 "Driving Up the Heat: SUVs and Global Warming," Sierra
Club, San Francisco, California, available at http://www.sierraclub.org/globalwarming/suvreport/#background
as of February 12, 2003.
4 "2003 EPA Mileage Report," U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency, Washington, D.C., available at http://www.fueleconomy.gov/
as of February 12, 2003.
5 "Driving Up the Heat: SUVs and Global Warming: Worsening
the Threat of Global Warming," Sierra Club, San Francisco,
California, available at http://www.sierraclub.org/globalwarming/suvreport/suvthreat.asp
as of February 12, 2003.
6 Testimony on climate change by Professor S. Fred Singer, President,
Science and Environmental Policy Project, before the U.S. Senate
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on July 18,
2000, available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/KyotoSingerTestimony2000.html.