Efficient Vehicles: A Better Way to Go

This editorial was published in the October/November 2011 issue of National Wildlife magazine.

In a truly significant national commitment to curb greenhouse gases, the Obama administration, a labor union and key auto manufacturers including Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai have joined with the state of California to reach a critical deal requiring passenger vehicles to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

Also announced—and broadly agreed upon—were the first ever standards for heavy duty trucks that will reduce their fuel use by 10 to 20 percent by 2018. Currently, more than 30 percent of fossil-fuel carbon dioxide emissions in this country come from petroleum that is used mainly by the transportation sector.

Chevy Volt
Fuel efficiency standards that cover all cars and trucks mean that we will see innovation and fuel savings in all types of vehicles, from semi-trailers and school buses to pickup trucks, minivans, family sedans and electric cars like the Chevrolet Volt, pictured here.

National Wildlife Federation supports these agreements because they mean passenger cars and light trucks built in 2025 will emit about 50 percent less carbon pollution than cars today and heavy trucks will reduce their carbon emissions significantly.

These landmark White House agreements came about through responsible negotiations with automakers, environmentalists and labor unions. While we did not get the full 60 mpg for which we had called for, these standards will make a very significant dent in tailpipe pollution. And we will continue to work with all the parties to speed innovation in cars and trucks.

New Fuel Standards Mean Gas Savings for all Vehicles

According to the Union of Concern Scientists, the latest passenger vehicle agreement will cut carbon pollution by more than 308 million tons in 2030—the equivalent to shutting down 72 coal-fired power plants. The group also predicts “lower fuel expenditures at the pump by over $80 billion in 2030—even after paying for the cost of the necessary technology, consumers will still clear $50 billion in savings that year alone.” These savings mean billions more being spent at home, boosting our economy locally and improving our serious trade deficit. They also will reduce our dependence on Middle East oil by saving as much as 23 billion gallons of gasoline annually by 2030, which is equal to the total current annual imports from both Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

The many hybrid models now in the market have certainly contributed to improving the nation’s overall fuel efficiency. As an owner of a hybrid, I can assure you that I enjoy passing gas stations that I once stopped at to fill up. But standards that cover all cars and trucks mean that we will see innovation and fuel savings in all types of vehicles, from semi-trailers and school buses to pickup trucks, minivans, family sedans and electric cars.

Will the House of Representatives Stand in the Way of More Efficient Cars?

The final rule for heavy duty trucks was adopted in August. The handshake agreement for passenger vehicles will be proposed formally as a draft regulation open for public comment and input by the end of September. A final rule, if adopted, will be published in July 2012.

Leave it to the U.S. House of Representatives to oppose the passenger vehicle agreement and try to block any responsible solution to a serious environmental and economic problem. In a three-page letter sent to the CEOs of nine major automakers, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said the committee “has begun an investigation into the nature of the negotiations.” He added that the deal appears “to have been negotiated in secret, outside the scope of law, with potentially significant negative impacts for consumers.”

The Obama administration has estimated that, under the plan, consumers will save $1.7 trillion at the pump. It appears that the only “significant negative impact” will be to big oil interests that have made record profits in recent years and pocketed many billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidizes, and their Middle East suppliers who will sell a lot less oil to the United States. The legislative backlash should be expected, since oil interests are making huge contributions to lawmakers who watch out for their interests and protect their tax subsidies.

We commend the Obama administration for working in a spirit of cooperation with affected interests to forge a reasonable compromise with major benefits for the public, the economy and wildlife. We are saddened by all attacks on our landmark environmental and conservation laws, including the Clean Air Act, that underpin these standards. As this passenger vehicle agreement (as in previous fuel-efficiency agreements) will be submitted to a formal rule-making process in which all U.S. citizens will have a chance to voice their opinions, we encourage NWF members to actively participate as it moves forward.

Share Your Views

What do you think about these new standards? Do you know if your representatives support them? Comment on this blog or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter and let me know what you think.

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