New U.S. Fuel Economy Standards Too Weak to be Effective

1 Feb
On March 29, 2006, the U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta announced new fuel economy standards for pickup trucks, minivans and all sport utility vehicles (SUVs) with great fanfare.“The new standards represent the most ambitious fuel economy goals for light trucks ever developed in the program’s twenty-seven year history,” Mineta said. “And more importantly, they close loopholes that have long plagued the current system.”

Without ever saying so, Mineta also managed to imply that the new fuel economy standards—a partial revamp of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program established in 1979—are a victory for the environment due to less fuel consumption and lower emissions, and a major step forward in fuel efficiency that will lessen America’s dependence on foreign oil. But improvements from the new standards will be so incremental that they will do little to achieve either of those critical goals.

New Standards Won’t Solve the Problem of High Fuel Consumption
The DOT claims the new rule will save 10.7 billion gallons of fuel by raising minimum mileage standards from an average of 22.2 in 2007 to 24 miles per gallon in 2011. In addition, some light trucks will be required to meet a fuel economy target of 28.4 miles per gallon, which is higher than today’s standard (27.5 mpg) for passenger cars. Yet, while the new standards do finally include the largest SUVs such as General Motors’ Hummer H2, they fail to include the largest pickup trucks, which account for 80 percent of the largest vehicles on the road. And overall, they fall short of a serious attempt to reduce America’s escalating fuel consumption.

So just weeks after President Bush pledged to reduce America’s “addiction to oil” and called for a 75 percent reduction in Middle East oil imports by 2025—a decrease of 5 million barrels per day—his administration unveiled these new mileage standards that would increase fuel efficiency by less than 2 miles per gallon and achieve less than 15 percent of the president’s goal.

“President Bush says America is addicted to oil, but this new standard is like telling a two pack-a-day smoker to cut out one cigarette,” said Daniel Becker, director of the Sierra Club’s Global Warming program.

“The technology exists today to make all new vehicles average 40 miles per gallon within 10 years,” said Becker. “The biggest single step we can take to save consumers money and curb our oil addiction and global warming pollution is to make all our cars, trucks and SUVs go farther on a gallon of gas.”

Tougher Standards Would Lower Oil Dependency and Consumer Costs
According to the Sierra Club, the administration’s own estimate of oil savings shows that the new rule will save less than two weeks worth of oil consumption at current levels over the next four years. Conversely, if the DOT required automakers to use existing technology to make all new vehicles average 40 miles per gallon within the next 10 years, the Sierra Club estimates the United States would save more oil than it currently imports from the entire Persian Gulf and could ever extract from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge combined.

“As a result, the average driver would save over $2,200 at the gas pump over the lifetime of their vehicle and U.S. global warming pollution would be reduced by close to 600 million tons,” the Sierra Club said in a statement.

Many experts claim that even taking steps to push fuel economy just a little further than the new DOT standards would result in vast improvements.

“Simply by raising the fuel economy standard for SUVs and other light trucks by just one mile per gallon per year over the next five years — to 27.2 mpg by model year 2012 — we could save one million barrels of oil per day by 2020,” said Roland Hwang, Vehicles Policy Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That’s twice as much oil as we buy from Iraq, and three-quarters of our daily imports from Saudi Arabia.”

“The issue isn’t how fuel economy performance is calculated,” Hwang said. “The real question is how much the new standards will curb what President Bush has described as America’s addiction to oil.”

 

**April Ocampo

 

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