Another Big10 coach on leave

Staff & Wire Reports

FILE - In this Dec. 26, 2016, file photo, Maryland head coach DJ Durkin walks the sideline during the first half of the Quick Lane Bowl NCAA college football game against Boston College in Detroit. Maryland placed the head of the football team's strength and conditioning staff on paid leave while it investigates claims he verbally abused and humiliated players, a person briefed on the situation said. The person spoke to The Associated Press on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018, on condition of anonymity because Maryland had not announced the decision regarding Rick Court. The person says athletic director Damon Evans spoke with the football team Saturday morning and Durkin was still leading the program.  (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

FILE - In this Dec. 26, 2016, file photo, Maryland head coach DJ Durkin walks the sideline during the first half of the Quick Lane Bowl NCAA college football game against Boston College in Detroit. Maryland placed the head of the football team's strength and conditioning staff on paid leave while it investigates claims he verbally abused and humiliated players, a person briefed on the situation said. The person spoke to The Associated Press on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018, on condition of anonymity because Maryland had not announced the decision regarding Rick Court. The person says athletic director Damon Evans spoke with the football team Saturday morning and Durkin was still leading the program. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

Maryland puts Durkin on leave amid football investigation


AP College Football Writer

Sunday, August 12

Maryland placed head coach DJ Durkin on administrative leave Saturday while the school scrutinizes allegations of poor behavior by the football staff, apparent misdeeds that came to light following the death of a player.

In an open letter, athletic director Damon Evans wrote: “At this time, the best decision for our football program is to place Maryland head football coach DJ Durkin on leave so we can properly review the culture of the program.”

Offensive coordinator Matt Canada will serve as interim coach.

Earlier Saturday, the head of the football team’s strength and conditioning staff was placed on paid leave while the school investigates claims he verbally abused and humiliated players, according to a person briefed on the situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because Maryland had not announced the decision regarding Rick Court.

Maryland has also placed two athletic training staffers it did not identify on leave as it investigates the death of Jordan McNair. The 19-year-old offensive lineman was hospitalized May 29 after a team workout and died June 13. Dr. Rod Walters, a former college athletic trainer, has been hired by Maryland to investigate the circumstances of the death. A report is expected by Sept. 15. McNair’s parents are being represented by Baltimore attorney Bill Murphy, whose firm is also investigating.

In his open letter, Evans wrote: “The external review into the tragic death of Jordan McNair continues, and we have committed to releasing publicly the report being prepared by an independent and national expert.”

ESPN reported that head football athletic trainer Wes Robinson and director of athletic training Steve Nordwall were placed on leave by Maryland.

An ESPN story on Friday quoted unidentified players, former players and former members of Durkin’s staff, who contended Court and Durkin created a toxic culture within the program.

“The safety and well-being of our student-athletes is our highest priority,” Evans wrote. “These alleged behaviors are not consistent with the values I expect all of our staff to adhere to and we must do better.”

Durkin is starting his third season at Maryland. The 40-year-old former Michigan defensive coordinator is 11-15 in two seasons after receiving a five-year, contract worth $12.5 million in December 2015.

Keisha Staples, the mother of junior defensive back Antoine Brooks Jr., told the AP she is close with a group of about eight players’ parents who would like to meet with Evans and school officials to voice their “full support” for Durkin.

Brooks was part of Durkin’s first recruiting class in 2016.

Staples said her son has never told her of inappropriate behavior by Durkin or Court, and that Durkin has been open and accessible when any issues have come up with Brooks.

“I’m sure not everybody has had the same experience we’ve had, but we have had a good experience,” Staples said.

Staples said she has never had any interactions with Court.

“I don’t want the stigma to be at Maryland this is a toxic culture,” Staples said. “This is a football culture.”

She added: “They’re already dealing with the death of their teammate. Now they have to deal with the loss of their coach.”

Durkin brought Court to Maryland to lead the strength and conditioning staff in 2016. Court had been the head strength coach at Mississippi State since 2014 under coach Dan Mullen. Court also worked with Durkin at Bowling Green in 2005 and ‘06, when Durkin was an assistant.

Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald expressed support for Court on Saturday. Fitzgerald’s first two seasons with the Bulldogs coincided with Court’s time leading the strength program at the school.

“He worked us hard,” Fitzgerald told the AP. “They were definitely tough workouts, but ultimately he wasn’t out to get anybody. He wasn’t out to hurt anyone. His job is to make us physically fit and ready for the season and that’s exactly what he did. From what I remember, he never really went over the line or did anything crazy like that.”


AP Sports Writer Dave Ginsburg in Baltimore contributed to this report.


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Who owns the moon? A space lawyer answers

July 20, 2018

Frans von der Dunk

Professor of Space Law, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Disclosure statement

Frans von der Dunk has a consultancy addressing issues of space law and policy.

Most likely, the best-known picture of a flag ever taken is Buzz Aldrin standing next to the first U.S. flag planted on the Moon. For those who knew their world history, it also rang some alarm bells. Only less than a century ago, back on Earth, planting a national flag in another part of the world still amounted to claiming that territory for the fatherland. Did the Stars and Stripes on the moon signify the establishment of an American colony?

When people hear for the first time that I am a lawyer practicing and teaching something called “space law,” the question they ask most frequently, often with a big smile or a twinkle in the eye, is: “So tell me, who owns the moon?”

Of course, claiming new national territories had been very much a European habit, applied to non-European parts of the world. In particular the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch, the French and the English created huge colonial empires. But while their attitude was very imperialistic, the legal notion that planting a flag was an act of establishing sovereignty quickly stuck and became accepted worldwide as part and parcel of the law of nations.

Obviously, the astronauts had more important things on their mind than contemplating the legal meaning and consequences of that planted flag, but luckily the issue had been taken care of prior to the mission. Since the beginning of the space race the United States knew that for many people around the world the sight of a U.S. flag on the Moon would raise major political issues. Any suggestion that the moon might become, legally speaking, part of U.S. backwaters might fuel such concerns, and possibly give rise to international disputes harmful to both the U.S. space program and U.S. interests as a whole.

By 1969, decolonization may have destroyed any notion that non-European parts of the world, though populated, were not civilized and thus justifiably made subject to European sovereignty – however, there was not a single person living on the moon; even life itself was absent.

Still, the simple answer to the question of whether Armstrong and Aldrin by way of their small ceremony did transform the moon, or at least a major part thereof, into U.S. territory turns out to be “no.” They, nor NASA, nor the U.S. government intended the U.S. flag to have that effect.

The first outer space treaty

Most importantly, that answer was enshrined in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to which both the United States and the Soviet Union as well as all other space-faring nations, had become a party. Both superpowers agreed that “colonization” on Earth had been responsible for tremendous human suffering and many armed conflicts that had raged over the last centuries. They were determined not to repeat that mistake of the old European colonial powers when it came to decide on the legal status of the moon; at least the possibility of a “land grab” in outer space giving rise to another world war was to be avoided. By that token, the moon became something of a “global commons” legally accessible to all countries – two years prior to the first actual manned moon landing.

So, the U.S. flag was not a manifestation of claiming sovereignty, but of honoring the U.S. taxpayers and engineers who made Armstrong, Aldrin, and third astronaut Michael Collins’ mission possible. The two men carried a plaque that they “came in peace for all mankind,” and of course Neil’s famous words echoed the same sentiment: his “small step for man” was not a “giant leap” for the United States, but “for mankind.” Furthermore, the United States and NASA lived up to their commitment by sharing the moon rocks and other samples of soil from the lunar surface with the rest of the world, whether by giving them away to foreign governments or by allowing scientists from all over the globe to access them for scientific analysis and discussion. In the midst of the Cold War, this even included scientists from the Soviet Union.

Case closed, no need for space lawyers anymore then? No need for me to prepare University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s space law students for further discussions and disputes on the lunar law, right?

No space lawyers needed?

Not so fast. While the legal status of the Moon as a “global commons” accessible to all countries on peaceful missions did not meet any substantial resistance or challenge, the Outer Space Treaty left further details unsettled. Contrary to the very optimistic assumptions made at the time, so far humankind has not returned to the moon since 1972, making lunar land rights largely theoretical.

This 1964 file photo from the World’s Fair in the borough of Queens in New York shows a views of a moon colony in the Futurama 2 ride put together by General Motors. AP Photo

That is, until a few years ago when several new plans were hatched to go back to the moon. In addition at least two U.S. companies, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, which have serious financial backing, have started targeting asteroids for the purpose of mining their mineral resources. Geek note: Under the aforementioned Outer Space Treaty, the moon and other celestial bodies such as asteroids, legally speaking, belong in the same basket. None of them can become the “territory” of one sovereign state or another.

The very fundamental prohibition under the Outer Space Treaty to acquire new state territory, by planting a flag or by any other means, failed to address the commercial exploitation of natural resources on the moon and other celestial bodies. This is a major debate currently raging in the international community, with no unequivocally accepted solution in sight yet. Roughly, there are two general interpretations possible.

So you want to mine an asteroid?

Countries such as the United States and Luxembourg (as the gateway to the European Union) agree that the moon and asteroids are “global commons,” which means that each country allows its private entrepreneurs, as long as duly licensed and in compliance with other relevant rules of space law, to go out there and extract what they can, to try and make money with it. It’s a bit like the law of the high seas, which are not under the control of an individual country, but completely open to duly licensed law-abiding fishing operations from any country’s citizens and companies. Then, once the fish is in their nets, it is legally theirs to sell.

OSIRIS-REx will travel to a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu and bring a small sample back to Earth for study. The mission launched Sept. 8, 2016, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. As planned, the spacecraft will reach Bennu in 2018 and return a sample to Earth in 2023. NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/ASSOCIATED PRESS

On the other hand, countries such as Russia and somewhat less explicitly Brazil and Belgium hold that the moon and asteroids belong to humanity as a whole. And therefore the potential benefits from commercial exploitation should somehow accrue for humanity as a whole – or at least should be subjected to a presumably rigorous international regime to guarantee humanity-wide benefits. It’s a bit like the regime originally established for harvesting mineral resources from the deep seabed. Here, an international licensing regime was created as well as an international enterprise, which was to mine those resources and generally share the benefits among all countries.

While in my view the former position certainly would make more sense, both legally and practically, the legal battle by no means is over. Meanwhile, the interest in the moon has been renewed as well – at least China, India and Japan have serious plans to go back there, raising the stakes even higher. Therefore, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln we will need to teach our students about these issues for many years to come. While ultimately it is up to the community of states to determine whether common agreement can be reached on either of the two positions or maybe somewhere in between, it is of crucial importance that agreement can be reached one way or another. Such activities developing without any law that is generally applicable and accepted would be a worst-case scenario. While not a matter of colonization anymore, it may have all the same harmful results.

The Conversation US, Inc.

Keep Back-to-School Traffic From Turning Deadly

COLUMBUS, Ohio (August 10, 2018) – As Ohio students head back to school, AAA urges motorists to help curb tragedies by watching out for added pedestrians, school buses and traffic on the roads.

Pedestrian fatalities are on the rise in Ohio. Last year the number of pedestrian fatalities soared to 144, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). This is nearly 24 percent higher than the five year average (2013-2017).

Young pedestrians are not immune. During the past five years ODOT says 2,964 crashes involving pedestrians 18 years old or younger occurred in Ohio (about 600 each year). These resulted in 46 young pedestrian deaths, including 13 killed in 2017.

Students going to and from school are especially at risk, as ODOT data shows young pedestrian crashes spike in the morning and afternoon, with 3 p.m. standing out as the peak time for crashes involving pedestrians 18 years old and younger. Thursday and Friday also prove especially dangerous.

Safety Tips for Motorists:

Since 1946 AAA has been dedicated to helping reduce the number of school-related pedestrian injuries and fatalities with the School’s Open – Drive Carefully campaign. Through this campaign, AAA urges motorists to do the following:

Slow down: A pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling 25 mph is about two-thirds less likely to be killed than a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 35 mph. A difference of 10 mph can save a life.

Eliminate distractions: Children on foot or bicycle are often unpredictable and may cross the road unexpectedly or emerge suddenly between two parked cars. Research shows that looking away from the road for two seconds doubles the risk of crashing.

Come to a complete stop: Studies show that more than one-third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones or neighborhoods.

Plan Ahead: Traffic is heavier once school is back in session. Drivers should give themselves extra time by leaving early or modifying their routes to avoid school zones and traffic. Remember, driving around a stopped school bus is dangerous and illegal.

Look for AAA School Safety Patrollers: For 98 years AAA School Safety Patrollers have worked at schools across the country to keep their classmates safe. Local participating schools and advisor contacts are available upon request.

Pedestrian Safety Tips for Students:

Congestion in school zones makes it difficult for drivers and children to see each other. This increases the likelihood of collisions. Parents can help keep their children safe by teaching them the following safe walking habits:

Go directly to and from school or the bus stop.

Cross at corners and use crosswalks.

Cooperate with police, AAA School Safety Patrols and adult crossing guards.

Look in all directions for approaching vehicles before crossing the street. Watch for vehicles that might turn.

Obey all traffic signals.

If you must walk on roads that have no sidewalks, walk facing the traffic and as far from the roadway surface as possible.

Be extra alert in bad weather. Drivers have trouble seeing and stopping.

More back to school safety tips can be found at

B-roll footage of the AAA School Safety Patrol is available here.

As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides nearly 58 million members with travel-, insurance-, financial-, and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and an advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited on the Internet at

GOP Stalwarts Push for Grand Bargain — Regulatory Relief, Carbon Tax

By Llewellyn King

In Hugh Lofting’s children’s stories about “Doctor Doolittle” there appears an imaginary creature resembling a llama, but with a head at either end of the body, so that it always faces in two directions at once. Called the pushmi-pullyu, it’s become a metaphor for contradiction.

U.S. energy-environmental policy, I submit, is characterized by this kind of contradiction. And make no mistake, energy policy is profoundly affected by environmental policy. Mostly, it’s the bit left over after the environmental constituencies have been satisfied.

The country’s energy-environmental policies are subject to a plethora of contradicting stimuli and restrictions that, while sometimes achieving their goal, cost the economy 1 percent a year, according to an analysis by EY, the global accounting firm. This on top of bad decisions — based on what can be gotten through the regulatory thicket not on what is needed, or what will benefit the environment — and endless delay.

Now a group of Republican stalwarts, who believe that climate change is happening and is caused by human activity, wants to do something about this pushmi-pullyu situation in energy-environmental policy. Their remedy: Substitute all the contradictions, preferments, subsidies, tax anomalies and self-defeating rules with a simple, revenue-neutral carbon tax.

These climate change-minded conservatives have created a Washington-based organization, the Alliance for Market Solutions. Its executive director is Alex Flint, a former staff director of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and a former senior vice president of governmental affairs at the Nuclear Energy Institute.

The backers of the alliance — rock-ribbed Republican business executives, academics and think-tank fellows — are committed to turning the GOP toward taking a positive stance on climate change. They believe that science has spoken, and the environment is the great existential threat facing humanity.

Among those who are throwing their experiential weight and financial resources behind the alliance are Jeffrey Williams, founder and chairman of the eponymous investment banking company; William Strong, chairman and managing director of the private equity firm Longford Capital Management; Marvin Odum, former chairman of Shell Oil; John Rowe, former chairman of Exelon Corp.; and Stephen Wolf, former chairman and CEO of United and three other airlines.

These titans are joined by academics and public intellectuals including John Graham, dean of the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the U.S. Office of Management and Budget during the George W. Bush administration, and Christopher DeMuth, a distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former president of the American Enterprise Institute.

The alliance and its backers are neither seeking to argue with the Trump administration, which has denied climate change, nor to take up arms with the forces that categorically reject any new tax. They say they’ll only support a carbon tax if it’s a genuine tax reform as well as a regulatory reform. They want to work quietly, and in small groups, inside the GOP body politic.

The difficulties of getting Republican lawmakers to consider a carbon tax were illustrated when Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida introduced a such a bill on July 23. It got immediate pushback from Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, and the House passed an anti-carbon tax resolution on July 25.

But Flint and members of the alliance are undaunted: “As long as we have to address carbon pollution and doing so with a carbon tax is much less burdensome than doing so with regulations, and we have to make our tax code more efficient, a carbon tax is going to be part of the conversation,” Flint said at his offices near the Capitol.

The battle to contain carbon emissions is joined — from the right.


Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. His email is He wrote this for

Climate change and wildfires – how do we know if there is a link?

August 10, 2018

Once again, the summer of 2018 in the Northern Hemisphere has brought us an epidemic of major wildfires.

These burn forests, houses and other structures, displace thousands of people and animals, and cause major disruptions in people’s lives. The huge burden of simply firefighting has become a year-round task costing billions of dollars, let alone the cost of the destruction. The smoke veil can extend hundreds or even thousands of miles, affecting air quality and visibility. To many people, it has become very clear that human-induced climate change plays a major role by greatly increasing the risk of wildfire.

Yet it seems the role of climate change is seldom mentioned in many or even most news stories about the multitude of fires and heat waves. In part this is because the issue of attribution is not usually clear. The argument is that there have always been wildfires, and how can we attribute any particular wildfire to climate change?

As a climate scientist, I can say this is the wrong framing of the problem. Global warming does not cause wildfires. The proximate cause is often human carelessness (cigarette butts, camp fires not extinguished properly, etc.), or natural, from “dry lightning” whereby a thunderstorm produces lightning but little rain. Rather, global warming exacerbates the conditions and raises the risk of wildfire.

Even so, there is huge complexity and variability from one fire to the next, and hence the attribution can become complex. Instead, the way to think about this is from the standpoint of basic science – in this case, physics.

This year is proving to be another active wildfire season. Climate Central, CC BY-NC

Global warming is happening

To understand the interplay between global warming and wildfires, consider what’s happening to our planet.

The composition of the atmosphere is changing from human activities: There has been over a 40 percent increase in carbon dioxide, mainly from fossil fuel burning since the 1800s, and over half of the increase is since 1985. Other heat-trapping gases (methane, nitrous oxide, etc.) are also increasing in concentration in the atmosphere from human activities. The rates are accelerating, not declining (as hoped for with the Paris agreement).

This leads to an energy imbalance for the planet.

The flows of energy through the climate system are schematically illustrated with numbers on the top-of-atmosphere values and net energy imbalance at the surface. Trenberth et al 2009

Heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere act as a blanket and inhibit the infrared radiation – that is, heat from the Earth – from escaping back into space to offset the continual radiation coming from the sun. As these gases build up, more of this energy, mostly in the form of heat, remains in our atmosphere. The energy raises the temperature of the land, oceans and atmosphere, melts ice, thaws permafrost, and fuels the water cycle through evaporation.

Moreover, we can estimate Earth’s energy imbalance quite well: It amounts to about 1 watt per square meter, or about 500 terawatts globally.

While this factor is small compared with the natural flow of energy through the system, which is 240 watts per square meter, it is large compared with all other direct effects of human activities. For instance, the electrical power generation in the U.S. last year averaged 0.46 terawatts.

The extra heat is always the same sign and it is spread across the globe. Accordingly, where this energy accumulates matters.

Tracking the Earth’s energy imbalance

The heat mostly accumulates ultimately in the ocean – over 90 percent. This added heat means the ocean expands and sea level rises.

Heat also accumulates in melting ice, causing melting Arctic sea ice and glacier losses in Greenland and Antarctica. This adds water to the ocean, and so the sea level rises from this as well, rising at a rate of over 3 milimeters year, or over a foot per century.

Global ocean heat content for the top 2000 meters of the ocean, with uncertainty estimates by the pink region. ScienceAdvances, CC BY-NC

On land, the effects of the energy imbalance are complicated by water. If water is present, the heat mainly goes into evaporation and drying, and that feeds moisture into storms, which produce heavier rain. But the effects do not accumulate provided that it rains on and off.

However, in a dry spell or drought, the heat accumulates. Firstly, it dries things out, and then secondly it raises temperatures. Of course, “it never rains in southern California” according to the 1970s pop song, at least in the summer half year.

So water acts as the air conditioner of the planet. In the absence of water, the excess heat effects accumulate on land both by drying everything out and wilting plants, and by raising temperatures. In turn, this leads to heat waves and increased risk of wildfire. These factors apply in regions in the western U.S. and in regions with Mediterranean climates. Indeed many of the recent wildfires have occurred not only in the West in the United States, but also in Portugal, Spain, Greece, and other parts of the Mediterranean.

A satellite image of the Carr Fire in California. Drought conditions, in addition to a lot of dead trees and vegetation, are contributing to another year of severe wildfires. NASA

The conditions can also develop in other parts of the world when strong high pressure weather domes (anticyclones) stagnate, as can happen in part by chance, or with increased odds in some weather patterns such as those established by either La Niña or El Niño events (in different places). It is expected that these dry spots move around from year to year, but that their abundance increases over time, as is clearly happening.

How big is the energy imbalance effect over land? Well, 1 Watt per square meter over a month, if accumulated, is equivalent to 720 Watts per square meter over one hour. 720 Watts is equivalent to full power in a small microwave oven. One square meter is about 10 square feet. Hence, after one month this is equivalent to: one microwave oven at full power every square foot for six minutes. No wonder things catch on fire!

Attribution science

Coming back to the original question of wildfires and global warming, this explains the argument: there is extra heat available from climate change and the above indicates just how large it is.

In reality there is moisture in the soil, and plants have root systems that tap soil moisture and delay the effects before they begin to wilt, so that it typically takes over two months for the effects to be large enough to fully set the stage for wildfires. On a day to day basis, the effect is small enough to be lost in the normal weather variability. But after a dry spell of over a month, the risk is noticeably higher. And of course the global mean surface temperature is also going up.

“We can’t attribute a single event to climate change” has been a mantra of climate scientists for a long time. It has recently changed, however.

As in the wildfires example, there has been a realization that climate scientists may be able to make useful statements by assuming that the weather events themselves are relatively unaffected by climate change. This is a good assumption.

Also, climate scientists cannot say that extreme events are due to global warming, because that is a poorly posed question. However, we can say it is highly likely that they would not have had such extreme impacts without global warming. Indeed, all weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.

In particular, by focusing on Earth’s Energy Imbalance, new research is expected to advance the understanding of what is happening, and why, and what it implies for the future.

The Conversation

How the federal government came to control your car’s fuel economy

August 9, 2018

The bad old days of gas lines in the 1970s and shortages led to the creation of fuel economy rules. AP Photo


Brian C. Black

Distinguished Professor of History and Environmental Studies, Pennsylvania State University

Disclosure statement

Brian C. Black does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.


Pennsylvania State University

Pennsylvania State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

The Environmental Protection Agency in August announced a plan to freeze fuel economy standards and revoke the ability of California to set more stringent rules than the national ones, prompting a legal showdown between the state and the federal government.

The proposal, which would keep fuel economy at planned 2020 levels, is the most significant step to halt the rise on the mileage standards of the U.S. passenger vehicle fleet in decades.

But how did fuel efficiency even become mandated? After all, manufacturers go to great lengths to analyze the consumer marketplace and build in the most tantalizing features to create top sellers, whether it’s great acceleration or a deep bass sound system. One feature is different, though: Carmakers are legally bound to innovate more efficiency into their vehicles.

The regulations requiring higher efficiency – known as the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards – are one of the clearest vestiges of lessons the U.S. learned during the 1970s energy crisis. And most experts agree that by every measure, they show that thoughtful regulation can drive industry to improve basic aspects of the consumer market, in this case automobiles, through innovation and designs that prioritize efficiency.

But today, the Trump administration argues that such regulations may be “too stringent.” From my perspective as a historian, I see this move to put the brakes on rising fuel efficiency rules as a sea change in the country’s priorities on energy and oil consumption.

‘Energy crisis’ and OPEC

It was a panicked moment in 1977 when President Jimmy Carter stood in the Oval Office to “have an unpleasant talk with Americans about a problem unprecedented in our history.”

The Arab members of OPEC had embargoed oil shipments to many Western nations, resulting in temporary shortages in supply. But the U.S. after World War II had come to assume an infinite oil supplies. Though temporary, lines at gas stations and market shortages caused what was called an “energy crisis.”

Jimmy Carter called energy, apart from war, the greatest challenge Americans “will face in our lifetime.”

Carter identified the essential problem as energy gluttony on which he declared the “moral equivalent of war.” And CAFE standards marked a significant part of the federal response to the new reality of energy resources as finite – not limitless.

Most radical, though, the new standards redefined vehicles in a way that returned to the ethic of Henry Ford when vehicles possessed neither options nor variations. Behind the options and bling, the auto could now be measured primarily for the effectiveness with which it carried out its basic purpose: transporting humans. As a remarkable example of the “softer energy paths” extolled by environmental scientist Amory Lovins and others in the 1970s, CAFE standards recast the primary purpose of autos in the U.S. beyond devices for personal transportation. While they could offer various comforts and symbols of “bling,” American-made cars now had to perform their basic purpose – transportation – efficiently.

The 1975 law required that each vehicle openly post its miles per gallon rating, similar to listing ingredients in food that was required by the Food and Drug Administration. The law also required manufacturers to achieve the more challenging goal of improving fuel efficiency to reduce pollution and limit dependence on foreign oil. And they did: In 1978, American autos averaged 13 miles per gallon compared to 22 mpg in other Western countries; the law set the goal at 28 mpg for new American cars by 1985, which manufacturers achieved.

Political shifts

Left open to political shifts, the CAFE standards have been adjusted up and down by each administration.

After rising significantly in the 1970s and early 1980s to 27.5 mpg, the fuel efficiency standards stayed more or less steady until the 2000s. In many cases, the auto industry lobbied against raising levels.

Then in 2007, Congress under President George W. Bush passed an energy law that put in place the first changes to U.S. fuel-economy standards in almost 20 years, raising the levels for auto manufactures to meet. In 2009, the Obama administration raised the goals even further and tied the decrease in emissions to progress toward fighting climate change, not only reducing oil consumption.

The Trump administration’s proposal would require manufacturers to meet the 2020 level of 37.5 mpg, but not meet the Obama administration’s more ambitious goals of over 50 mpg after that date.

The proposal reflects the Trump administration’s commitment to deregulation as a way to stimulate the economy. It also demonstrates a major change in how the U.S. views oil and gasoline. In the 1970s, the U.S. experienced how dependent it was on foreign suppliers; today, the U.S. is now one of the world’s leading producers of oil.

Even if most consumers wouldn’t make efficiency a primary rationale for selecting a vehicle, time has shown that Americans from a wide swath of the electorate look favorably on spending less cash on gasoline.

California said it intends to fight back against the proposal, which suggests that CAFE standards will be a primary battlefront in the effort by states willing to stand against loosening environmental regulation.

The Conversation US, Inc.

The Conversation

Why Trump shouldn’t leverage the government’s emergency oil supply to bolster the GOP

August 10, 2018

President Gerald Ford discussing plans for a Strategic Petroleum Reserve with workers in California in 1975. Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum


Peter Shulman

Associate Professor of History, Case Western Reserve University

Disclosure statement

Peter Shulman does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.


Case Western Reserve University

Case Western Reserve University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

President Donald Trump has publicly griped about the prices of oil and gasoline, which are at their highest levels in four years.

If oil supplies were to suddenly grow, those prices might well decline. That is why, according to unnamed sources, his administration is reportedly considering selling some of the oil stowed in the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve and urging U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia to pump more oil.

Should Trump attempt to lower gas prices to gain favor with voters, it wouldn’t be the first time a president has tapped the strategic reserve in advance of an election. But it would be the first time such a move was made solely for political reasons. And I believe it would be a particularly cavalier action in light of Congress’ recent moves to sharply reduce the amount of oil in the reserve and the energy insurance it’s provided for over three decades.

Based on what I’ve learned from researching the links between energy and national security since the 19th century, I see in these moves a strategic shift that ought to worry Americans.

Energy independence

Congress and President Gerald Ford’s administration created the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in the mid-1970s to insulate the country from oil supply interruptions.

At the time, the U.S. had become much more reliant on imported oil. And there were deep concerns about supply interruptions because in 1973, the Arab members of the OPEC oil cartel imposed an embargo on countries, including the U.S., that were supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War.

Crude oil prices out of the Middle East quadrupled in just a few months, pushing up prices at American gas pumps.

Since that energy crisis, the federal government has made achieving U.S. “energy independence,” or at least resilience, a top priority.

Over the decade following 1975, the government built the reserve in roughly 60 caverns hollowed out of underground salt domes at four sites in Texas and Louisiana. The U.S. also has become one of about 30 industrialized, oil-consuming countries that maintain emergency oil supplies around the globe and coordinate responses to future disruptions, like those following the revolution in Libya in 2011.

Political expediency

But the release that the Trump team is reportedly mulling appears to be timed not for a petroleum shortfall but to make voters feel less pinched when they fill their tanks – or fill out their ballots.

If that happens, without any verifiable supply bottlenecks, it would mark an unprecedented attempt to benefit the party in power by temporarily cutting gasoline prices – or at least to persuade voters that the administration is trying to make that happen.

The closest parallel of a contested election-year release happened in 2000, when then-President Bill Clinton released 2.7 million barrels of reserve crude – and later 30 million additional barrels – to relieve a shortage of residential heating oil in the northeast.

Critics decried the moves as ploys to aid the presidential campaign of then-Vice President Al Gore, who had called for such a release. But, unlike the situation today, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from oil-consuming states had demanded it and public support was solidly behind it.

Among those who criticized Clinton’s move was then-presidential candidate and former oilman George W. Bush. After assuming office in 2001, the second President Bush sought to fill the reserve to full capacity for the first time and only release oil during emergencies when refineries could not buy crude, and not simply because of high prices, no matter how much of an economic hardship these prices imposed.

On his watch, that meant selling some of the oil after Hurricane Katrina interfered with refining along the Gulf Coast. In Bush’s 2007 State of the Union address, he called for the reserve to be doubled to 1.5 billion barrels, but Congress rejected even smaller increases almost unanimously as uneconomical.

Another difference from past emergency reserve releases, should there be a sale soon, is that domestic oil production has risen sharply in recent years due to technological innovations like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.

That growth – which brought the country’s dependence on imported oil to a 50-year low in 2017 – has made many politicians believe that maintaining more than 700 million barrels of oil has become an unnecessary extravagance.

In fact, Congress has already mandated the gradual sale of some 300 million barrels of this oil over the coming decade. The proceeds would fund either unrelated spending, deferred maintenance on the reserves themselves, or pay for revenue lost from the assorted tax cuts that took effect in 2018. These reductions may make the country less prepared to deal with real supply disruptions in the future, like a catastrophic Iranian-Saudi Arabian war.

Anticipating these reductions, in July, House Republicans began discussing plans to lease or even sell storage space in the reserve to private companies.

Further distinguishing a fall release from previous ones, U.S. refineries are currently running at nearly full capacity, raising questions of how selling this oil would even benefit consumers.

It is possible – and in the context of global warming, desirable – that someday, the U.S. economy will no longer rely on petroleum and therefore will have no need for a Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Until then, I do not see how it can make sense for political opportunism to influence the nation’s energy strategy.

The Conversation US, Inc.

FILE – In this Dec. 26, 2016, file photo, Maryland head coach DJ Durkin walks the sideline during the first half of the Quick Lane Bowl NCAA college football game against Boston College in Detroit. Maryland placed the head of the football team’s strength and conditioning staff on paid leave while it investigates claims he verbally abused and humiliated players, a person briefed on the situation said. The person spoke to The Associated Press on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018, on condition of anonymity because Maryland had not announced the decision regarding Rick Court. The person says athletic director Damon Evans spoke with the football team Saturday morning and Durkin was still leading the program. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File) – In this Dec. 26, 2016, file photo, Maryland head coach DJ Durkin walks the sideline during the first half of the Quick Lane Bowl NCAA college football game against Boston College in Detroit. Maryland placed the head of the football team’s strength and conditioning staff on paid leave while it investigates claims he verbally abused and humiliated players, a person briefed on the situation said. The person spoke to The Associated Press on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018, on condition of anonymity because Maryland had not announced the decision regarding Rick Court. The person says athletic director Damon Evans spoke with the football team Saturday morning and Durkin was still leading the program. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

Staff & Wire Reports