This post was co-authored by Ulla-Britt Reeves and Toni Reale
As the Gulf oil disaster worsens by the hour beyond epic proportions, our nation’s fuel consumption from vehicles takes on entirely new urgency in any attempt we make to reduce our oil consumption. On May 21st, President Obama responded to that urgency and drew an important connection for the American people when he used his executive powers to issue the first-ever tailpipe and mileage standards for large vehicles (big rigs and work trucks) manufactured in 2014 through 2018.
President Obama’s May executive order builds on a new clean cars rule, which solidified new tailpipe and mileage standards for passenger vehicles, that was approved on April 1st, 2010, just days before the oil disaster began. These passenger vehicle rules will become effective on cars of the model year 2012 through model year 2016.
Obama’s May presidential mandate for large vehicles also calls for further improvement in fuel efficiency for cars and light trucks made in 2017 and beyond, additionally strengthening the standards that he rolled out in April of this year (see details below). Additionally, the newest executive order calls for the advancement of new clean energy technologies such as plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles, biofuels and natural gas.
It is said that President Obama’s May 21st announcement is a significant victory in combating greenhouse gas emissions from large vehicles. As the second largest consumer of oil, big rigs only get 6 miles to the gallon and collectively burn more than 2.4 million barrels of oil per day!
“The disaster in the gulf only underscores that even as we pursue domestic production to reduce our reliance on imported oil, our long-term security depends on the development of alternative sources of fuel and new transportation technologies, I believe that it’s possible in the next 20 years for vehicles to use half the fuel and produce half the pollution that they do today.” – President Obama
The new standards finalized in April aim at reaching a fleet average of 35.5 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2016, nearly 10 miles per gallon more than now. This is a long overdue improvement considering U.S. fuel efficiency standards have not changed much in 20 years and every 3 mpg increase in fuel economy equates to a savings of 1 million barrels of oil per day! According to NRDC, increasing fuel economy by 3 mpg would also save consumers upwards of $25 billion per year in fuel costs and cut CO2 emission by 140 million tons per year. Currently, passenger vehicles (cars) have an mpg standard of 27.5 and light duty trucks are lower, with only 22.2 mpg standards. And until May 21st of this year, with Obama’s new announcement, heavy duty trucks and big rigs (including Hummers) had no standards.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “The final agreement will represent the largest improvement in fuel economy in over thirty years,and the first ever regulation of global warming emissions under the federal Clean Air Act.”
Union of Concerned Scientists statistics show that the new 2012-2016 standards will:
– Reduce U.S. oil consumption by 1.2 million barrels per day by 2020, more petroleum than the United States presently imports from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined;
– Cut global warming emissions by 209 million metric tons in 2020, the equivalent of taking nearly 31 million of today’s cars and light trucks off the road that year;
– Save drivers $34 billion in 2020 even after they pay the cost of vehicle technology improvements. (This is based on $2.75 per gallon. If gas prices spike to $4 a gallon again, the new standards would save drivers $58 billion in 2020.)
– Create up to 20,000 new jobs in the auto industry and up to 200,000 nationwide by 2020.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that if we were to take our vehicle fuel efficiency up even more to 40 MPG, we would save more than 50 billion barrels of oil by 2050. Furthermore, the surprisingly simple technique of requiring fuel efficient replacement tires instead of higher friction tires (which are more commonly used when original tires wear out), would save 5.4 billion barrels of oil by 2050!
Without these and even more aggressive changes to our nation’s fuel economy standards, we will not see dramatic reductions in our oil consumption. And our oil consumption is what drives our demand and increases that need for oil companies to pursue more dangerous and risky drilling, such as the one now responsible for our nation’s biggest environmental catastrophe. These new federal rules are an essential step in the right direction and we need even more encouragement to drive our vehicle industry toward innovative technology changes that increase the number of high efficiency vehicles like hybrids that are for sale.