Obama Administration Moves Closer to Reduced Auto Emissions

Saturday, September 19, 2009

THE ANNOUNCEMENT by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in the White House press room on Tuesday was brief. But their plan to reduce emissions from motor vehicles and light trucks was significant. Not only would it provide the nation's first greenhouse gas emissions standard, but the new rules, devised with automakers' participation, would also bring about the biggest increase in gas mileage in history.

By the 2016 model year, reductions in carbon dioxide from motor vehicles would have to reach 250 grams per mile, and corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) would have to reach 35.5 miles per gallon. This would be an acceleration of the 35 mpg by 2020 that Congress mandated under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. According to Ms. Jackson, the standard would reduce oil consumption "by an estimated 1.8 billion barrels" between 2012 and 2016, prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those of 42 million cars and save the average car buyer "more than $3,000 in fuel costs." The EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration say automakers could meet the new requirements by increasing the use of start-stop technology and improving engine efficiency, transmissions, tires and air-conditioning systems. Yes, hybrids are expected to play a part.

The rules also would establish a national standard for fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. This has been the long-sought goal of automakers concerned about a patchwork of regulations they otherwise would have to comply with from the EPA, NHTSA and California. Since 2004, the Golden State had been trying to institute its more-stringent greenhouse gas emission standards. Maryland, 12 other states and the District of Columbia adopted them as well. But California needed a waiver from the EPA to implement them. It was granted in June after the state's Air Resources Board agreed to change its program so that compliance with the new federal standard would be deemed in compliance with California's regulations.

This plan is the meat on the bones of the national fuel efficiency policy that President Obama announced in May with smiling auto executives, environmental advocates and public officials in the Rose Garden. The final plan is due in March. Their continued work shows that progress on addressing climate change is at least being made somewhere on Pennsylvania Avenue.

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