October 04, 2023
Making the Most of Your Miles: Stronger Fuel Economy Standards
Gas prices are on the rise, climate impacts are hitting from all sides, and car payments are getting more expensive. Midwesterners need a break; better fuel economy standards can help!
Last week, ELPC testified at the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA)’s hearing in support of stronger Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards (CAFE) for new cars, light trucks, heavy-duty pickups, and vans. Here are highlights from that testimony and an opportunity for you to make a difference too.
NHTSA has a good record of setting CAFE standards that successfully save consumers money at the pump, reduce oil use, increase energy security, and protect our health. The transportation sector is the leading source of US climate pollution, accounting for 78.8% of total U.S. petroleum consumption in 2021. Even under the strongest presented alternative, total fuel consumption from 2022-2050 will be 2,548 billion gallons. We cannot afford to burn more when there are better options available. We can do more with less. NHTSA must set standards at “the maximum feasible average fuel economy level.”
Climate Action is Urgent
The latest IPCC reports make clear both the human causes of climate change and its devastating impacts. June, July, and August have all been record breaking hot months globally, with tragic natural disasters in the US and abroad playing out. Cities coast to coast have been choked with smoke from wildfires impacting health and communities. We cannot look the other way.
ELPC is specifically concerned about the threat the climate crisis poses to the Midwest and the Great Lakes. The region is home to 61 million people and to the auto industry; it is also a significant engine for agriculture. Temperatures in the Midwest are rising. Warmer temperatures impact public health with increased frequency of harmful heat waves and storms and worsening air quality.
The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater ecosystem on earth, containing 21% of the world’s freshwater supply and providing drinking water for over 42 million people. Commercial and recreational fishing, alone, in the Great Lakes inject over $5 billion into the economies of the surrounding states. The changing climate brings increased storm intensity, changes to water temperatures, flooding, runoff and algal growth – all presenting a significant and increasing threat to the Great Lakes. NHTSA must do its part to ensure we avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
NHTSA Must Pick a Stronger Option – at least Alternative 3PC/5LT
The climate crisis significantly driven by burning oil for transportation should leave no doubt that NHTSA must adopt standards at least as strong as Alternative 3 with 3 and 5% annual increases for cars and trucks respectively. This level of standard is achievable and would yield a new vehicle fleetwide average of 61.48 mpg as compared to 57.74 mpg under NHTSA’s weaker preferred alternative.
But let’s be clear, NHTSA’s standards are as much as 30% above what these vehicles will actually achieve. Achieving a fleetwide average of 47 or so miles per gallon in 2032 in the face of the climate crisis is disappointing. NHTSA should do nothing less than that.
Strong Standards Strengthen Innovation & Manufacturing
A strong auto manufacturing base is critical to the economies and well-being of states where ELPC works to protect public health and the environment–from Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to the Dakotas. In fact, American manufacturers are plugged into a world economy.
While so much attention is on the essential transition to electric vehicles, NHTSA’s standards are central to ensuring the gasoline powered vehicles sold in the US will use less fuel and emit less climate and air pollution. Vehicles sold in 2032 will be consuming oil for years if not decades. An all electric vehicle future, fueled be clean energy is the goal, but we cannot afford to let gasoline powered vehicles languish while we strive to get to that goal. Driving the evolution of the internal combustion engine to greater efficiency is core to NHTSA’s standards.
Reducing oil consumption and pollution from America’s cars, light trucks, larger pickups and vans is critical to protecting the climate and achieving President Biden’s goals, our commitments in rejoining the Paris Climate agreement, and to have even a chance of preserving a safe climate for our kids and theirs.
The climate cannot afford weak standards that will lock in greater oil consumption and more climate pollution. NHTSA must finalize standards at least as strong as the third alternative and the strongest standards for medium and heavy-duty pickups and vans and do so quickly.