New Report: Cleaner Cars Means a Safer Climate

America’s drive for cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars, SUVs and trucks is reaching a major signpost, and it looks like we’re picking up speed.

A new government report shows that we’re making important progress, while illustrating the potential for even greater pocketbook savings for motorists—if only we keep a foot on the accelerator.  Keeping strong vehicle standards will bring ever cleaner and healthier air—and a more stable climate for our planet.

Why is fuel efficiency so important?

Our cars use seventy percent of all the oil used in the U.S., making cars one of the largest sources of carbon pollution, the key driver of climate change that threatens our health. So, improving fuel efficiency brings a lot of benefits, including saving money at the gas pump. Unfortunately, some critics, those with deep financial vested interests, may want to weaken clean car standards for our vehicles. The auto industry, for example, may seek to soften an agreement it embraced only four years ago.

The report refutes claims by some that the government’s fuel efficiency standards will be costly to meet, and its credibility is unassailable. It’s jointly issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB).  (For a more technical discussion of the report and the broader issue, see blogs by my colleagues Luke Tonachel and Roland Hwang.)

Let’s look how we got here.

In 2012, President Obama set carbon pollution and fuel economy standards for cars, SUVs and light trucks made from 2017 to 2025, and projected that the new fleet would roughly double fuel efficiency—cutting emissions in half—by 2025. Autoworkers and most automakers endorsed that goal as they stood, literally, with the President at the unveiling.

That agreement called for a mid-term evaluation, including a “technical assessment” report, to measure progress made to develop the technology needed to meet the standards for model years 2022 through 2025.

The key findings of the technical assessment report are that - as my colleague Roland Hwang points out - "Automakers can meet 2025 carbon pollution and fuel economy standards with known technologies, on time, and at the same or lower cost than previously estimated."

The technical assessment report is just the first step in the mid-term evaluation on fuel economy standards. After gathering public responses to the findings, the agencies will decide if the current standards warrant any changes.

Any weakening of these life-pocketbook-and climate-saving standards would be a grave mistake. We’d get more pollution, more oil consumption, more health complications, costlier gas and a compromised climate. And we’d get all that when the standards are actually attainable—there’s no need to ease them.

Keeping strong standards directs the auto industry to keep innovating to give consumers the fuel efficiency they want. Strong standards also ensure that U.S. automakers remain competitive against foreign companies that are known for better efficiency and are eager to grab more market share.

The automakers can meet tough clean car and fuel economy standards. Through innovations, they’ve done it recently, even as gas prices have dropped.

But they have a history of crying wolf—they’ve often claimed new standards protecting our health and safety are just too expensive or unworkable. And they’ve been wrong.

We need to make sure, if they cry wolf again, we don’t listen. We need to stay in high gear with clean car and fuel economy standards for the good of our health, the economy and the environment.