Obama Administration Should Strengthen Fuel Economy Standards

Today, the Bush Administration announced that it will not issue final fuel economy standards for automobiles, leaving approval to President-elect Obama's administration. This gives the Obama administration an opportunity to move quickly under the nation's clean air and energy laws to raise fuel economy and cut heat-trapping pollution from new cars and trucks.

The fuel economy standards, originally proposed last May, were weak and missed a major opportunity to save consumers money at the pump and to make the American car companies more competitive in the near future.

In a brief statement, the Department of Transportation said "recent financial difficulties of the automobile industry will require the next administration to conduct a thorough review of matters affecting the industry, including how to effectively implement the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA)." The Obama administration should certainly take a closer look at the proposed standards and strengthen them. Automakers have already developed plans to not only meet the proposed standards but go beyond.

In their request for emergency government loans, General Motors and Ford provided production plans to show they would use the money to make more fuel-efficient vehicles that consumers are craving. NRDC analysis compiled by my colleague Roland Hwang shows that the plans not only hit proposed corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) targets, but also demonstrate that GM and Ford can meet the more stringent California greenhouse gas standards.

In a world of insecure and volatile oil markets and intensifying global warming, we must move aggressively to clean up our cars and trucks. We can't rely on gas prices alone to determine what kind of choices drivers will get in the showroom.

Importantly, President-elect Barack Obama has acknowledged that it is time to stop reliance on oil prices alone to drive changes in oil consumption. On 60 Minutes he put it this way:

You know, oil prices go up, gas prices at the pump go up, everybody goes into a flurry of activity. And then the prices go back down and suddenly we act like it's not important, and we start, you know filling up our SUVs again.

And, as a consequence, we never make any progress. It's part of the addiction, all right. That has to be broken. Now is the time to break it.

I couldn't agree more and I recommend that the Obama administration strengthen CAFE and make it at least equivalent to CA's standards. Stronger standards will benefit drivers, protect jobs in the flagging auto industry and help put America on a faster path to cleaner, more secure transportation.