Administration officials acknowledge that the measure has climate benefits but say they are also focused on cutting other pollutants, as well as reducing oil use and consumers’ fuel costs. “I think that’s the prize for all of us, and we think that’s within our reach,” said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.
Ex-congressman Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.), who led a group of former GOP politicians in calling last week for stricter fuel-efficiency standards, supports the administration’s efforts in that arena. “Talk of global warming doesn’t resonate with voters the way that the price of driving to work does,” he said.
“All of us who are involved in this issue have to talk about it in ways that are relevant to the American family,” Boehlert said in an interview. “We have to talk about it in the way they talk about it at the kitchen table.”
Many environmentalists echo that theme, promoting the new rules as having much more to do with reducing oil use than addressing climate change. Dan Becker, who directs the Center for Auto Safety’s Safe Climate Campaign, said that if the public debate ends up focusing on oil consumption, “we win,” because it is a more popular message than anything related to global warming.
Obama highlighted the fuel economy standards in a speech Tuesday at an aluminum plant in Iowa, as he has done before.
But instead of mentioning climate change directly, he described how he and others told U.S. automakers that in exchange for government aid, “they’d have to make some changes to compete, so we brought people together and set the first new fuel-mileage standards in more than 30 years. And that means fewer trips to the pump and less harmful pollution.”
Although the George W. Bush administration had sought to block regulation of vehicles’ greenhouse-gas emissions — which California and more than a dozen states had pushed to do — Obama embraced it. In May 2009, he brokered a deal between automakers, California officials, environmentalists and unions that incorporated California’s standards into a national program, an agreement that all sides hailed as breaking a decades-long stalemate over fuel efficiency.
That deal set greenhouse-gas emission limits for vehicles in the 2012 through 2016 model years. Now, officials are working on the rules for later models — and those are more ambitious.
By 2030, the current standards are slated to cut the nation’s annual greenhouse-gas emissions by the equivalent of 307 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and cut oil consumption by 1.8 million barrels a day. But the second round of rules, which will apply to cars and light trucks for model years 2017 through 2025, are proving more contentious because the emission cuts could more than double, and some domestic automakers question whether they can build much more efficient cars at a price consumers are willing to pay.