White House, automakers negotiate fuel efficiency standards
The White House has reportedly suggested a 56-miles-per-gallon standard.
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Story by Mitra Taj.
The Obama White House scored a solid environmental victory two years ago when it got Congress to agree to raise fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. They hadn't changed much since the 1970s. Now carmakers have until 2016 to make vehicles that get an average of 35 miles per gallon. But the President drives a hard bargain – he wants cars that go even further on less fuel.
Getting carmakers to make cars more efficient can do a few things: It can ease pain at the pump by cutting down on the number of trips made to the gas station, and it can cut greenhouse gas emissions and imports of foreign oil.
For President Obama, that means he can edge a bit closer to old campaign priorities: "Climate change and our dependence on foreign oil, if left unaddressed, will continue to weaken our economy and threaten our national security."
A range for new fuel economy standards by 2025 are on the table. On the low-end, 47 miles per gallon; on the high end, 62 miles per gallon -- a standard which, right now, only fully electric cars can meet.
In closed-door negotiations, the White House has reportedly suggested something in between: 56 miles per gallon, which would add up to vehicle emissions reductions of about five percent a year, the same rate in place through 2016. Opinion polls show most Americans support strong standards, but the auto industry says the real test of what the public wants is in new car showrooms.
Wade Newton, a spokesman for the industry group Auto Alliance, says many consumers may not be able to purchase fuel efficient cars. "So you can design and build an auto that has this incredible technology on it, but if no one can afford to purchase it, the vehicle just sits there on the sales lot. And worst of all, that customer -- instead of buying the new auto -- drives around in their old automobile, which certainly doesn't have all the fuel technology that we're working to introduce into the fleet."
An industry that drove a fleet of SUVs into bankruptcy might not be the best judge of what Americans really want, says Dan Becker, the director of the policy group Safe Climate Campaign.
"You know, the auto industry never learns a new trick," adds Becker. "This is the same argument that they used in 1974 when they testified against the original fuel economy law. The technology that is in the hybrid vehicle is something American people love. They like high tech products. They don't want a 1950s engine in a 2010 or 2011 vehicle. And there are costs to improving the technology. They're real. But they're made up for two to three times by savings at the gas pump."
The White House and the auto industry have until the end of September to reach an agreement.
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