Obama Mandates Rules to Raise Fuel Standards

Published: May 21, 2010
WASHINGTON — President Obama ordered the government on Friday to develop tougher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, advancing the fight against climate change without waiting for Congress.  Mr. Obama announced the creation of a national policy that will result in less greenhouse-gas pollution from medium- and heavy-duty trucks for the first time, and will further reduce exhaust from cars and light-duty trucks beyond the requirements he had already put in place.  “Today’s announcement is an essential part of our energy strategy, but it’s not a substitute for other necessary steps,” Mr. Obama said in a Rose Garden ceremony on Friday, flanked by auto and truck manufacturers. He repeated his hope that Congress will pass an energy bill by the end of the year. “In the meantime,” he added, “I’m going to take every sensible, responsible action that I can take using my authority as president.”
Mr. Obama said that reducing fuel use would save money for businesses and consumers, and he linked his new policy to the enormous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “The disaster in the gulf only underscores that, even as we pursue domestic reduction to reduce our reliance on imported oil, our long-term security depends on the development of alternative sources of fuel and new transportation technologies,” he said.  The executive memorandum the president signed on Friday orders theEnvironmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department to develop new fuel and emissions standards more strict than those formalized last month, but the memorandum did not propose specific fuel-economy figures.
Under last month’s rules, new cars must get at least 35.5 miles to a gallon of fuel, on average, by 2016, in combined city and highway driving. The president’s new plan would order further improvements in fuel efficiency for cars and light trucks made in 2017 and beyond, and in medium and heavy trucks made in 2014 through 2018.  In addition, Mr. Obama’s directive orders more federal support for the development of new vehicles like advanced electric cars, and it instructs the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce emissions of other kinds of pollutants by motor vehicles, besides greenhouse gases.  Environmentalists hailed the move. “President Obama’s oil savings proposal will reduce our dependence on oil,” said Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research organization. “More efficient cars and trucks will help to protect families’ budgets as well as America’s shores.”
Medium and heavy trucks represent only 4 percent of all vehicles on American highways, but they consume more than 20 percent of the fuel used in road transportation, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental advocacy organization. Improving the average fuel economy of these trucks by 3.7 miles to the gallon would, by 2030, reduce American oil consumption by 11 billion gallons a year, the group said.
Mr. Obama said existing technology could improve the fuel economy of tractor-trailers, as an example, by 25 percent. Over all, he said that within 20 years he wants the nation’s vehicles to be using half the fuel and produce half the pollution they do today.
Building cleaner vehicles costs money, but may ultimately save consumers more through lower gasoline bills. The policy already enacted will add about $1,000 to the cost of an average new car by 2016, but save about $3,000 in fuel over the life of the vehicle, according to government officials.
Mr. Obama was joined on Friday by environmental leaders and representatives of major truck manufacturers who supported the new policy. Among them were the chief executives of VolvoDaimler Trucks North America, Cummins and Navistar, the head of the American Trucking Association and a garbage-truck driver in his uniform.  Manufacturers want a single national standard set over the long term because that is easier to comply with than the patchwork of state and national regulations that had been imposed in the past.
Before the president’s initial policy a year ago, car and light-truck makers were facing fuel-efficiency standards being developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in response to Congressional legislation; separate greenhouse-gas standards being developed by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Air Act; and the possibility of separate standards enacted in California and 13 other states.  “The federal government is looking 15 years down the road and uniting all the diverse stakeholders to work towards the same national goal,” Dave McCurdy, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said in a statement. Noting the collaboration over the set of rules enacted last month, he added, “This approach achieved success once before, so we are optimistic that we can do it again.”
Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, a nonprofit group, said the new policy would promote the use of clean diesel technology. “Diesel engines offer an unmatched combination of energy efficiency, work capability, reliability and now near-zero-emissions environmental performance,” he said.

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