DOT Proposes Annual 4.5% Increase in Fuel Efficiency

Fuel efficiency standards for both passenger vehicles and light trucks would increase by 4.5 percent per year over the five-year period ending in 2015 – a 25 percent total improvement that exceeds the 3.3 percent baseline proposed by Congress last year – under a new proposal announced April 22 by U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters.

"This proposal is historically ambitious, yet achievable," Peters said. "It will help us all breathe a little easier by reducing tailpipe emissions, cutting fuel consumption, and making driving a little more affordable."

For passenger cars, the proposal would increase fuel economy from the current 27.5 miles per gallon to 35.7 miles per gallon by 2015. For light trucks, the proposal calls for increases from 23.5 miles per gallon in 2010 to 28.6 miles per gallon in 2015.

All told, the proposal will save nearly 55 billion gallons of fuel and a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions estimated at 521 million metric tons. The plan will save America's drivers over $100 billion in fuel costs over the lifetime of the vehicles covered by the rule, Peters said.

Automakers can earn credits for exceeding Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards. This will serve as an incentive for companies to exceed these goals while giving manufacturers flexibility to meet the standards without compromising their economic vitality. The goal is to save fuel, not endanger jobs, Peters said.

"Looking at the fuel-efficient technologies already available, it's easy to see a not-too-distant future when cars fueled by something other than gasoline will be readily available and affordable," Secretary Peters said. "Until that time, however, we will continue to do what we can, safely and efficiently, to improve gas mileage and help consumers spend less time and less money at the pump."

A representative of the Environmental Defense Fund said the Bush administration action is only one step toward a national policy to protect the climate and ensure lasting energy security.

"Only a mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions will reverse the growth in global warming pollution, spur innovative solutions,and address America's still rising dependence on fossil fuel," said John DeCicco, senior fellow for automotive strategies at Environmental Defense Fund.

Most scientists say the United States needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 80 percent by the middle of the century to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. Legislation set for a vote in the Senate in early June, the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (S. 2191), would put the country on that path by capping and reducing emissions across the economy.

"What's missing is a comprehensive solution that will unleash innovation and require other parties -- such as the petroleum industry -- to contribute a fair share of emissions reductions, both in the transportation sector and across the economy.Today's proposal, though progress against the past, would not even return global warming pollution to current levels," DeCicco said.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) expressed optimism regarding the car and light truck fuel economy requirements proposed by Peters but denounced the agency's interference in state climate protection efforts.

"If the rule really leads to a fuel economy average of 31.6 miles per gallon by 2015, as the DOT claims, cars and trucks will be well on their way to meeting the minimum statutory requirement of 35 miles per gallon by 2020," said Therese Langer, ACEEE's Transportation Program director. "Unfortunately, the rule is marred by its gratuitous attack on states' actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles."

Under the proposed rule, fuel economy requirements would differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, as they would depend upon the size mix of vehicles sold. If automakers produced vehicles larger than the DOT assumed in its calculations, average fuel economy could fall below the projection. "We'll be looking for a commitment to revisit the rule if average fuel economy gains fall short," said Langer. "The bottom line for the CAFE program is how much oil savings it provides."

ACEEE estimates that achieving the average fuel economy levels projected in the rule would reduce oil consumption by 1.4 million barrels per day in 2020 and 2.1 million barrels per day in 2025. Further increases in the standards will be necessary to reach energy security and climate stabilization goals.

ACEEE is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing energy efficiency as a means of promoting economic prosperity, energy security, and environmental protection.

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