SUV Owners Deserve Tax Audits, Sierra Club Says

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 federal regulations.

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 of SUVs.

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 wagons.

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 Built with outdated, gas-guzzling technology, many SUVs get just 13 miles per gallon.”3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 cold.

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.

Footnotes1 “Sierra Club to IRS: Audit Gas-Guzzling SUVs,” press release, Sierra Club, San Francisco, California, available at as of February 11, 2003.

2 See the Detroit Project at, an environmentalist website that on February 20, 2002, led with the headline: “Tell Detroit their gas-guzzlers help terrorists buy guns.”

3 “Driving Up the Heat: SUVs and Global Warming,” Sierra Club, San Francisco, California, available at as of February 12, 2003.

4 “2003 EPA Mileage Report,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C., available at 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 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

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