Increasing the fuel economy of America’s cars and trucks enhances energy security, cuts global warming emissions, and saves consumers money at the gas pump. Using existing technology, any vehicle – from sedans to minivans to pickup trucks – can go farther on a gallon of gas and release fewer heat-trapping emissions. Unfortunately, little progress had been made since the mid 1980s to increase fuel economy and realize these benefits. As a result, today’s average new vehicle sold in the U.S. has virtually the same fuel economy as a new vehicle sold twenty years ago.
In response, Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Transportation (DOT), and the state of California have all taken steps in the past few years to raise fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new cars and light trucks. Consolidating these efforts, President Obama announced national clean car standards in May 2009 to boost fuel economy and cut global warming emissions through model year 2016. The final rule to implement these standards was approved on April 1, 2010. They will take effect with the 2012 model year vehicles.
These standards represent an unprecedented agreement between the federal government, the state of California, and the auto industry. The final agreement will represent the largest improvement in fuel economy in over thirty years,and the first ever regulation of global warming emissions under the federal Clean Air Act.
The National Clean Car Standards are finalized
The standards finalized on April 1, 2010 create separate, but complimentary, fuel economy and tailpipe global warming emission standards covering model years 2012-2016. The DOT is responsible for administering the fuel economy requirements, which establish fleetwide average fuel economy targets for new cars and light trucks sold, expressed in miles per gallon (mpg). The EPA administers the global warming pollution tailpipe standard, which establishes similar fleetwide averages for new cars and light trucks, expressed in grams per mile (g/mi). Both agencies establish the standards according to vehicle size, providing manufacturers flexibility in meeting the requirements. In addition, the state of California maintains its authority under the Clean Air Act to set its own global warming pollution standards as part of the national program. Specifically, the California standards will match the national program from model year 2012-2016, although California continues to have the option to set new standards for the period beyond 2016.
Real Progress, Real Benefits
Automakers will be able to integrate existing fuel-saving technology into their product plans to meet these new standards. At the proposed levels, the vast majority of gains will come from improvements to conventional technology – more efficient engines, smarter transmissions, better aerodynamics, and high-strength, lightweight materials. While we expect an increasing number of hybrid-electric vehicles to come on the market in this time period, these standards do not require increasing hybridization. The standards will boost the fleetwide fuel economy of new vehicles sold in the United States to 34.1 miles per gallon by model year 2016. The standards also set the first national tailpipe heat-trapping emissions standard for vehicles at 250 grams per mile, nearly 30 percent less than the emissions produced by today's average new vehicle.They will according to analysis by UCS:
- Reduce U.S. oil consumption by 1.2 million barrels per day by 2020, more petroleum than the United States presently imports from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined;
- Cut global warming emissions by 209 million metric tons in 2020, the equivalent of taking nearly 31 million of today's cars and light trucks off the road that year;
- Save drivers $34 billion in 2020 even after they pay the cost of vehicle technology improvements. (This is based on $2.75 per gallon. If gas prices spike to $4 a gallon again, the new standards would save drivers $58 billion in 2020.)
- Create up to 20,000 new jobs in the auto industry and up to 200,000 nationwide by 2020.
Some Still Trying to Block Cleaner Cars
Despite the fact that these new standards enjoy the support of the auto industry, the United Auto Workers, states that had adopted California’s clean car standards, and the Obama administration, there are still some attempting to undermine efforts to bring cleaner cars onto U.S. roads.
In October 2009, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, along with the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), began a legal challenge of the EPA’s right to regulate global warming under the Clean Air Act. They began with a lawsuit that seeks to block the EPA from allowing states to move forward with clean car standards. But efforts have expanded beyond state standards, to legal challenges against the EPA for its finding that global warming emissions endanger public health and should be regulated under the Clean Air Act. These legal challenges fly in the face of a 2007 Supreme Court decision, which instructed the EPA to make that determination using the best available science.
The Chamber and NADA have also engaged in lobbying efforts in support of an effort by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to strip the EPA of its right to regulate global warming emissions under the Clean Air Act. These efforts could create a roadblock between American drivers and the cleaner cars, pickups, and SUVs we want and need.