Fuel Efficiency Standards To Change In 2012… Finally.

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And it’s about time, given that the fuel efficiency standard (set by CAFE) in the United States was 27.5 MPG in 1985…and was still 27.5 MPG in 2009. The Department of Transportation, along with the Environmental Protection Agency (a name sometimes seen as being oxymoronic), have worked together to establish new efficiency standards that start with cars manufactured in 2012 through 2016. While I am guessing that in that time they will work on what to do starting in 2017, the fact that our government is finally doing something substantial at all about our fuel economy standards is groundbreaking. The rules will apply to passenger cars, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty passenger vehicles, all of which make up the bulk of what drivers buy from auto companies. These vehicles will have to meet a combined average emissions level of 250 grams of carbon dioxide per mile, or the equivalent to 35.5 miles per gallon (MPG), and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 960 million metric tons. This has the potential of saving over 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the cars sold between 2012 and 2016. If we can make that work, I imagine the standards after 2016 will be even tougher… which is exactly what we need.

Sounds great, right? Well, it is – except for a few little things. First of all, the EPA is allowing manufacturers to establish a system of averaging, banking, and trading of credits based on a manufacturer’s fleet average CO2 performance. This would allow manufacturers to basically trade credits with other manufacturers if they don’t meet the standards and/or go above and beyond them. It’s kind of like how a cap and trade program would work. I do suppose it is necessary to get the program off the ground and allow manufacturers some time to build more efficient cars (which we know they can do) since the new rules basically start next year when the 2012 models start rolling out. That’s fine with me – at least we are finally doing something.

The other thing I am wondering about is this quote from the EPA website:

Under this National Program, automobile manufacturers will be able to build a single light-duty national fleet that satisfies all requirements under both the National Program and the standards of California and other states, while ensuring that consumers still have a full range of vehicle choices. ”

I can’t seem to find much more information about exactly what this sentence means, so I will just take a guess. I believe it implies that if a car manufacturer can make a certain-sized fleet of electric cars (or some other version of a no-emission vehicle), than they can continue making the rest of their cars “as-is”. Since their new fleet would be so fuel efficient, they would meet the new standards being set without even having to adapt or change their existing model line. It’s just a guess, but I imagine it’s pretty close to truth.

So yes – we are finally getting new fuel efficiency standards. It’s about time that we do something about them, since as I mentioned above the standards have not changed since 1985. While I do believe we also need a higher gas tax, which hasn’t changed in years either, upping the fuel efficiency standard in the U.S. is definitely a step in the right direction. You have to start somewhere – and it looks like we have finally started.

Photo from Shutterstock.com

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  1. When you compare it to other countries’ efficiency standards, this is basically just catching up, but I do agree that it’s huge for the U.S. to get this done. More important than the discussion of whether the raise in fuel efficiency is big enough might be the fact that by raising them at all we are finally setting the wheels in motion toward further improvements. My friend, who has been working for the EPA for many years, had this to say:

    “This is BIG. The very first US regulations which place controls on emissions of greenhouse gases!

    Now we just have to keep Congess and the courts from overturning this major achievement.”

    I usually trust the cues from people like him, who aren’t political operatives but work on the actual nuts and bolts of implementing policy. So if he says it’s big, it is BIG.

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