Cars and Mars

August 28, 2012 | 11:26 am
Michelle Robinson
Former Contributor

Ever have a dream and wake up to find out that it wasn’t a dream after all – that you were actually living the dream?  I think that must be how many of the NASA engineers felt when the rover Curiosity landed on Mars earlier this month, but such dreams aren’t confined to outer space exploration. Right here on the Blue Planet, dreams really can come true…even in Washington, DC, during the so-called “silly season” that is an election year.

For years, my colleagues and I at the Union of Concerned Scientists have been not just dreaming about but working, day in and day out, for a future where cars and trucks go significantly farther on a gallon of gas – actually becoming a part of the solution to our climate and oil problem, not a primary cause.

Today, August 28, 2012, we are taking a major step in that hopeful direction. Today the administration finalized historic new federal automobile standards that will nearly double the average fuel efficiency of new passenger vehicles by 2025.  This is one of the biggest steps ever taken to reduce U.S. oil use and a huge step on the path toward cutting the country’s projected oil use in half within 20 years.

Under the new standards, the result of a widely-supported agreement between automakers, the White House, and California state officials, Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) for new cars and light trucks will climb to about 50 miles per gallon (mpg) and global warming pollution levels for the new vehicle fleet will tighten to an average of 163 grams-per-mile by model year 2025.

These standards, combined with the set of standards the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation enacted for model years 2012 through 2016, will produce tremendous benefits if they are implemented without opening up loopholes in the program in the years ahead.

UCS analysis shows the combined standards will:

  • Cut oil use by as much as 3.1 million barrels per day by 2030 – about the amount we import from the Persian Gulf and Venezuela combined.
  • Save consumers $8,000 over the life of a model year 2025 vehicle, compared to the average vehicle on the road today, even after paying for fuel-saving technology.
  • Reduce U.S. global warming pollution by as much as 570 million metric tons in 2030, the equivalent of taking 85 million of today’s cars and trucks off the road for an entire year.

In addition to helping to shield consumers from volatile gas prices, strong standards will help create hundreds of thousands of jobs around the country.

To meet strong standards, we need solid auto engineering and manufacturing, not rocket science, and that means jobs both in the auto industry and industries that supply them. From new jobs at a Ford plant in Ohio and GM plants in Tennessee to satisfy demand for fuel efficient gasoline models, to ramped up production of hybrid transmissions at Ford’s Van Dyke plant in Detroit — these standards will drive innovation and be a true win-win.

Consumers who have been waiting for cleaner choices and care about saving oil and money will have more options across vehicle classes, and the talented engineers and production line workers who are building these vehicles and helping transform the market will have money in their pockets. And because consumers will be spending less on oil, they can spend more on the things they need and enjoy, from food and education to buying gifts for their family, which will lead to more jobs throughout the nation. After all, “spending $1 on almost anything in the U.S. economy is better than spending it on gasoline or oil when it comes to jobs!”

The best thing about this “dream come true” is that UCS supporters across the country helped make it a reality. UCS supporters and hundreds of thousands of other concerned citizens have been demanding tougher standards for years, and weighed in at every step in the policy process. You have helped shape our transportation future and put us on a path to cutting our oil use in half in the next 20 years. Oil companies are making record profits from the status quo and will fight against the change we are seeking, so I hope this important victory inspires you to keep working with us on the efficiency and innovation policies we need to stay on a path of real progress!