By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 2, 2010; A01
Consumers will pay more for cars upfront but may save money in the long term under new rules finalized Thursday by the Obama administration that will increase fuel efficiency and for the first time set greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light trucks.
The new fuel efficiency standards, issued by the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency as the result of a May 2009 deal with the auto industry, represent a peaceful end to a contentious legal battle over how to regulate tailpipe emissions. At a time when it is unclear whether Congress will pass climate legislation this year, the new rules also mark the White House's most significant achievement yet in addressing global warming.
By model year 2016 vehicles must get an average of 35.5 miles per gallon. The requirements will add as much as $985 to a vehicle's initial cost, according to EPA estimates, but buyers will save about $4,000 on fuel over the life of the car, administration officials said.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson estimated that the tougher Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of cars and trucks sold between the 2012-16 model years with those vehicles' improved efficiency.
"These historic new standards set ambitious but achievable fuel economy requirements for the automotive industry that will also encourage new and emerging technologies," LaHood said. "We will be helping American motorists save money at the pump while putting less pollution in the air."
Environmentalists hailed the move, saying it will transform the U.S. auto market.
The fuel economy standards move up goals set in a 2007 energy law, which mandated a 35 mpg average by 2020. Passenger cars and light trucks now are required to get an average of 27.5 mpg. As a result of the new rules, greenhouse gas emissions from cars should be reduced 21 percent by 2030.
"These standards are good for consumers, the companies, the country and the planet," said David Doniger, policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate center.
Gloria Bergquist, vice president at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the new requirement "gives us a clear road map for future fuel economy increases. We have a hill to climb, and it's steep, so we will need consumers to buy our fuel-efficient technologies in large numbers to meet this new national standard."
Some critics worried about the cost. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) called it "the result of backroom deals and an ideological agenda that will cause more Americans to lose their jobs. Even though unemployment is at nearly 10 percent, this administration continues to press expensive regulations as if the economic recession never happened."
The NRDC, by contrast, estimated that in 2020, the standards will save consumers $65 billion in fuel costs by cutting oil consumption by 1.3 million barrels a day while also cutting carbon dioxide emissions by more than 220 million metric tons in that year.
The rules cover four types of pollutants -- carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and hydrofluorocarbons -- so automakers can meet the standards through an array of measures.
Many will probably substitute a new refrigerant called HFO-1234yf, which the EPA could approve in months, that releases a far less potent greenhouse gas than the one now used in air-conditioning units. Auto companies will probably add hybrid and electric cars as well as produce vehicles with smaller turbocharged engines and with engines that do not have to idle at stop signs or in traffic.
California pioneered the idea of greenhouse gas limits for vehicles, setting standards in 2004 that were adopted by 13 other states and the District. Automakers challenged the rules in court, and the Bush administration refused to grant California a waiver from the Clean Air Act, effectively blocking the standards from taking effect.
Once President Obama took office, the alliance, which represents 11 U.S. and foreign automakers, pressed for a deal with the states, labor groups and environmental organizations.
Canada adopted identical emissions standards for its vehicles Thursday, broadening the impact of the regulations. Canada's environment minister, Jim Prentice, said his government was "pleased to be taking this step to further harmonize our climate change action with the Obama administration -- a step that will protect our environment and ensure a level playing field for the automotive industry."