Obama to unveil aggressive fuel standards

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The Independent US

President Barack Obama is proposing today the highest auto fuel efficiency standards ever attempted in the United States. Burning less fuel also will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes, saving energy and forestalling climate change at the same time.

A senior administration official told reporters last night that Obama's national program for higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy, CAFE, standards is scheduled to start in model year 2012.

If the proposal is enacted, by 2016 the fleet average requirement would be 35.5 miles per gallon, said the official, who declined to be named. Currently the CAFE standard is 27.5 mpg for cars and 24 mpg for light trucks.

The 35.5 mpg standard would be achieved four years earlier than under the current CAFE law, which requires a 35 mpg standard in model year 2020.

"The projected oil savings of this program over the life of this program is 1.8 billion barrels of oil," he said.

Under the President's proposal, "Tailpipe emissions would fall by more than 30 percent," the official said.

The state of California has been trying for years to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles 30 percent by 2016. The state has been waiting since 2005 for the US EPA to grant its request for a waiver of the current federal tailpipe emissions standard so that California and 13 other states can enforce their own stricter regulations.

The Bush-era EPA denied California's request, and the current EPA administrator is still considering a renewed waiver request, which California filed one day after President Obama took office.

"If EPA does grant the waiver, California has agreed that they will defer to the proposed national standard that we are announcing tomorrow," the senior administration official said.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is traveling to Washington, DC to attend the President's announcement today.

The administration official said that federal agencies and the White House worked closely with California and all of the car companies in developing this proposal.

"It's important to note that all companies will be required to make more efficient and cleaner cars," he said. "We do that by proposing individual standards for each class size of vehicle and then a fleet average for each company. This has the effect of preserving consumer choice - you can continue to buy whatever size car you like, all cars get cleaner."

The world's major automakers said in a joint statement today that they support the President's commitment to establish a national program that will reduce carbon emissions and increase fuel economy.

"For seven long years, there has been a debate over whether states or the federal government should regulate autos. President Obama's announcement ends that old debate by starting a federal rulemaking to set a National Program," said Dave McCurdy, president and chief executive of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

"Automakers are committed to working with the President to develop a national program administered by the federal government," he said. "All industries will be called upon to reduce carbon emissions. Automakers play an important role."

A national program is a priority to automakers, he said, because a national fuel economy program allows manufacturers to average sales nationwide, so customers in all 50 states can continue to buy the types of vehicles they need for family, business and leisure, the Alliance said in a statement.

A national program avoids conflicting standards from different regulatory agencies and gives automakers certainty for long-term product planning.

And a national program is expected to deliver overall greenhouse gas reductions equal to or better than those that would be realized under separate programs by different regulatory bodies.

The senior administration official said the program is projected to achieve reductions of 900 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the life of the program.

"That is equivalent to taking 177 million cars off the road or shutting down 194 coal plants," he said.

The President's proposed national policy relies on the ruling by the US Supreme Court two years ago that the US EPA has the authority to regulated greenhouse gas emissions.

The proposal also takes account of the new interim one-year CAFE standards for model year 2011 establisted by the Department of Transportation during President Obama's first 100 days. The President has directed the DOT to work with the White House and other federal agencies to coordinate multi-year CAFE standards by April 2010.

Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents the state air agencies, started singing a Beach Boys song when he heard about the President's proposal.

"Wish they all could be California... cars? Well under an historic agreement between California and the auto manufacturers, now they will be," said Becker. "After an initial phase-in, every new vehicle sold in every state in the country will be required to meet California's clean car greenhouse gas standards. And that's not all; the auto manufacturers have agreed to drop their contentious litigation and support this landmark regulatory program. Few actions could have a more profound impact in the fight against global warming."

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, "President Obama, the state of California, the auto industry, and environmental leaders have come together around a global warming solution that will strengthen our economy and put the auto industry on the path to a clean energy future. The future of the auto industry lies in making cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles that reduce global warming pollution and our dependence on oil."

"The new clean car standard being announced tomorrow by President Barack Obama is a triple play - it will help move America off foreign oil, save families money, and spur American businesses to take the lead in developing the job-creating, clean-energy technologies of the future," said Daniel Weiss, a senior fellow and director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress.

"The new standard will dramatically reduce oil use and help make cars go significantly further on a gallon of gas," said Weiss. "It will also help American car companies make the super-clean cars of the future. And finally, it will help us compete with China, whose leaders have already announced their intention to become the worldwide leader in the production of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles."

Today, there are more than 50 auto technologies on sale that reduce emissions, increase mileage and run on clean fuels.

"Automakers are selling 130 models of automobiles that achieve 30 mpg or greater on the highway," McCurdy said. "Consumers can now test drive 35 models of hybrids or clean diesel in dealer showrooms. More technology is on its way to market."