Editorial for Wednesday — August 27, 2003

• SUVS Sport utility terrorists

SUVS Sport utility terrorists

Arnold Schwarzenegger drives one. Mike Tyson, the heavyweight boxer, bought six of them in the years before he declared bankruptcy. Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) drives one, too. Of course.

Despite gas mileage that hovers in the high one figure, despite being ranked dead last in the latest J.D. Power quality ratings, despite a lack of leg room, a stiff ride, refrigerator-box styling and sticker prices that run $50,000 and up, the GMC-AM General Hummer has become the vehicle of choice for the testosterone-soaked. It has also become the vehicle of choice for an anti-SUV backlash.

Last Friday, vandals set fires at four car dealerships in the San Gabriel Valley suburbs of Los Angeles, targeting SUVs in general and Hummers in particular. SUVs parked on residential streets were also attacked and defaced. A loose association of military eco-terrorists called the Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility, saying it wanted to “take the profit motive” away from dealers who sell SUVs.

Mr. Schwarzenegger, the actor and California gubernatorial candidate, was among the first celebrities to own a Hummer. He also invested some of his personal wealth to launch the production of a civilian version of the military Humvee as a passenger vehicle in the United States. (Interesting footnote: The Jim Lynch Hummer dealerships in O’Fallon and Ballwin boast the highest Hummer sales in the nation.) Arianna Huffington, the political commentator who is also running in the recall race, says Mr. Schwarzenegger’s Hummerphilia means he is soft on the environment. In response, Mr. Schwarzenegger said, “I will protect the environment. Don’t worry about it.”

We’re glad he cleared that up.

There are serious issues at stake here, not the least of which is that no matter how dangerous and destructive Hummers and other SUVs are to the environment (and to smaller cars in traffic, and to their own drivers in roll-over accidents) no one has the right to take the law into their own hands. Eco-terrorists should be prosecuted like other terrorists.

The second issue is that SUVs suck up more gasoline (Hmm, what countries export oil?) and produce more greenhouse gases than cars. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that SUVs produce nearly three times the nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons as cars, and 1.4 times the carbon dioxide.

If people have some sort of deep-seated need to drive a vehicle that wasteful, they should have to pay for it in the form of pollution fees and luxury taxes. Instead, if the SUV weighs more than 6,000 pounds (like many Hummers) and is used for “business” (and any good accountant can fix that up), the federal tax code allows the cost to be written off. The organization Taxpayers for Common Sense estimates that such write-offs cost the government $900 million last year. There’s eco-terrorism, and then there’s economic terrorism.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch


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