Requiring cars and trucks to go farther on a gallon of gasoline is good for the economy and the environment — as well as national security. That’s why new fuel efficiency rules the president is expected to announce this week must include a meaningful increase in fuel economy standards for the future.
President Barack Obama set the right course last year when his administration unveiled plans to raise corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. This was a nearly 40 percent increase over the previous standards and a significant improvement over the modest CAFE increase included in the 2007 energy bill.
In effect, the country adopted standards approved by California and a dozen other states, including Maine, but they got held up in court. These standards will reduce gasoline consumption by more than 10 billion gallons in 2016, saving drivers more than $30 billion a year in gasoline purchases, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 100 million metric tons per year.
These standards were an important step forward, but now the administration is set to propose standards for 2016 through 2025. It is hard to know what technical changes are likely by 2025, but we do know that the U.S. needs to reduce its carbon emissions — transportation being a major source — while reducing its dependence on imported fossil fuels for economic and security reasons — hundreds of billions of dollars are sent overseas each year to buy oil, often from regimes hostile to the United States.
To change this, auto companies and component manufacturers must be pushed to develop engines and vehicles that use less gasoline. Setting high fuel economy standards will accomplish this.
Many environmental groups are pushing for a 60-miles-per-gallon standard for passenger cars by 2025.
According to Environment Maine, this would save Maine drivers $427 million annually. That translates to $745 per Maine household per year.
In a report from several years ago, the National Academy of Sciences found that fuel economy could be increased by 50 percent while maintaining vehicle size and performance without reducing safety. Midsize cars could average 41 miles per gallon and large pickups nearly 30 mpg using existing technology. With technology that has yet to be invented, the fuel savings could be much larger, the report said.
In Europe and Asia, American car companies already are selling cars that get far better gas mileage than vehicles the same companies are selling in the United States.
With billions of dollars in federal money to help them through the economic downturn, these companies should be expected to work with the Obama administration to find ways to make cars that drivers want and that are also fuel-efficient and pollute less.