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Obama Drives Up Fuel Efficiency on Cars
Green Futures, 2 Jul 09
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by Polly Ghazi

Robust new mileage standards for US auto industry

Flanked by two unlikely allies – California’s Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and General Motors CEO Fritz Henderson – President Obama has announced groundbreaking vehicle standards that will further cement the greening of the US car industry.
By regulating both miles per gallon and exhaust pollution, the new uniform federal standard links curbs on greenhouse gas emissions with fuel economy standards for the first time in US history.

Covering vehicle model years 2012 to 2016, the legislation will require car makers to achieve an average fuel economy for their fleets of 35.5mpg in 2016 (with 39mpg specified for cars and 30mpg for light trucks). It will replace the current CAFE – Corporate Average Fuel Economy – standard of 27.5mpg for cars and 24mpg for light trucks. According to White House calculations, the four-year programme should result in a saving of about 1.8 billion barrels in oil consumption, and a total reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of approximately 900 million tonnes – the equivalent to taking 3.7 million cars off the road.

The new single standard will replace existing federal and state laws governing both fuel standards and greenhouse gas emissions. Initiating a national vehicle emissions standard also brings to a close the increasingly bitter battle between California and the US vehicle industry over the state’s efforts to impose its own legally binding greenhouse-gas emissions standard. Seventeen other states had said they would follow California’s lead if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted its request for a waiver enabling the state government to act unilaterally. While the EPA has not yet ruled on the waiver request, Obama’s national approach supersedes their decision.

The new standard may be modest in comparison with Europe, but it represents a huge step forward in the US, where motor manufacturers and their lobbyists have successfully squashed previous efforts at improving mileage requirements.

At the White House announcement, industry leaders were enthusiastic. “It launches a new beginning,” said David McCurdy, President of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. “The President has succeeded in bringing three regulatory bodies, 15 states, a dozen automakers and many environmental groups to the table.”

This piece originally appeared in Green Futures. Green Futures is published by Forum for the Future, one of the leading magazines on environmental solutions and sustainable futures. Its aim is to demonstrate that a sustainable future is both practical and desirable – and can be profitable, too.

Photo credit: Flickr/Burning Image, Creative Commons License.

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