Clean, Fuel Efficient Cars for Our Kids

August 28, 2011 | 7:07 pm
President Obama announcing clean car standards
Michelle Robinson
Former Contributor

I’ve been working with my colleagues at the Union of Concerned Scientists to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions from cars and trucks for almost 20 years.  It has been a long road, but soon we hope to celebrate the culmination of two decades of hard work, a significant increase in vehicle fuel efficiency and global warming pollution standards and, most importantly, a safer planet, cleaner air and better technology for kids like my favorite (okay, only) niece, who will be learning to drive around the time these standards are fully implemented in 2025.

A lot has changed since I started working on vehicle issues in 1992 (hair color and eyesight are a given). The nation’s political winds have shifted back and forth, vehicle technologies have advanced  thanks to the push and pull of state and federal standards, and the impact of vehicle emissions on our climate and our dangerous dependence on oil has only gotten worse.

What hasn’t changed?  Some in the auto industry and their friends in Congress have a tendency to pull out the same old arguments to fight tougher standards even as consumers still want better choices in the vehicle marketplace. image from 7-29 clean car standards announcement

President Obama and automakers at clean car standards announcement

But persistence, sound science and taking the industry’s arguments head on paid off.  Building on standards they announced last year that will apply to vehicles sold in model years 2012-2016, on July 29th, the Obama administration unveiled an agreement with major automakers and the state of California on a framework to strengthen the nation’s fuel efficiency and auto pollution standards for new cars and light trucks and we were there to applaud this historic agreement. The proposal will apply to vehicles sold in 2017-2025 and set a global warming pollution standard of 163 grams per mile by 2025, the equivalent of 54.5 miles per gallon. So for the second time in as many years, President Obama brought together the auto industry, the states, and other stakeholders to support strong standards that will protect consumers from high gas prices, curb global warming pollution, cut our oil dependence, and create innovative jobs in the American auto industry.

If implemented without loopholes, UCS analysis estimates that the standards will:

  • Cut oil consumption by as much as 1.5 million barrels per day—23 billion gallons of gasoline annually—by 2030. That is equivalent to U.S. imports from Saudi Arabia and Iraq in 2010.
  • Cut carbon pollution by as much as 280 million metric tons (MMT) in 2030, which is equivalent to shutting down 72 coal-fired power plants.
  • Lower fuel expenditures at the pump by over $80 billion in 2030 — even after paying for the cost of the necessary technology, consumers will still clear $50 billion in savings that year alone.

I am proud to say that UCS was in the forefront of the push for higher standards.  We have been a leader in a coalition we call Go60  (, that advocated for fuel efficiency and global warming pollution standards equivalent to a 60 mile per gallon standard.  The agreement just announced doesn’t get us all the way there, but as long as the rules are not weakened before they are finalized next July,  they will be the single most important policy victory in terms of emissions reductions, oil consumption and technological progress over 20 years of work to transform the transportation sector. I’d say the future looks a bit brighter for my niece!