So we’ve gotten a few questions from folks about why we were so excited about the CAFE bill that passed in the Senate. I just wrote something up for our Driving Change Network newsletter that helps provide a little more context on the issue, and the road ahead:
For the first time in more than 30 years, the Senate last week passed a substantial increase to the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard of the nations' fleet of cars and trucks by setting a target of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. That's up 40 percent from the 2006 car and truck average of nearly 25 mpg (the current requirements are 22.2 mpg for SUVs and small trucks and 27.5 mpg for cars—though the actual car average is about 29 mpg).
The fact that a majority of the Senate supported an actual fuel economy mpg number is a huge step, especially considering that since I was lining up to see Star Wars (the first one!) all legislative efforts to improve CAFE standards have failed. We have often noted that fuel economy has never been a partisan issue, so the sea-change in this debate could be seen by the change in long-time opponents of higher standards such as Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Ted Stevens (R-AK), and Thomas Carper (D-DE). Indeed, Senator Mikulski detailed her transformation in her fascinating floor speech on the issue.
Fully implementing this higher standard would reduce 206 million metric tons of global warming pollution (the equivalent of taking 30 million cars off the road)—so clearly overcoming years of stalemate on this issue is a step toward addressing the serious problem of global warming. While some have said that a 35 mpg standard does not go far enough, citing fuel economy in Europe and Japan as example, we see this as an opportunity to take an important first step toward reducing our oil dependence, and finally prove automakers can deliver the same or better performance, size, and safety while making a more efficient vehicle fleet in America. Indeed, these standards are what can make the UCS Guardian SUV design a reality. Also, as I noted in this blog, strong fuel economy standards will also push automakers away from muscle hybrid applications, as they’ll want to make the most out of hybrid technology to help meet these stronger standards.
That said, this bill is not perfect. The Senate bill does not guarantee the 35 mpg outcome in 2020 since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has the discretion to lower the standard. A bad administration could set interim standards in a way that could guarantee the discretion will be used. The only way to increase the likelihood of guaranteed reductions over the next 10 years is by continuing to enlist congressional allies who are willing to take on the auto industry and refute their outrageous claims. Our short-term goal will therefore be to significantly curtail this discretion when the House is expected to consider fuel economy legislation in mid-to-late July. In that effort, we are once again gearing up our “Receipt Revolution!” campaign, asking you to mail or fax a gas receipt with a message for fuel economy to your representative. Even hybrid owners can do it, so click here to get the details and help make this July 4th a revolution from gas guzzling!
But no matter what is enacted by Congress this year, there is no doubt that all those concerned with cleaner cars will need to press for tightening up NHTSA's fuel economy rulemaking process—both with this administration and the next—in order to ensure that significantly higher standards are actually realized. This continued vigilance is especially important in light of GM and Ford’s ability to convince NHTSA to roll back CAFE standards in the 1980s, despite Chrysler meeting the standards while making a profit.
So, in short, have no doubt that we’re making a difference, but also have no doubt that we need to keep the proverbial pedal to the metal in our race for cleaner cars.
Posted by: ScottN