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Obama Administration’s Fuel Economy Standard Is Step in Right Direction but Leaves Plenty of Room for Improvement

March 27, 2009

Obama Administration’s Fuel Economy Standard Is Step in Right Direction but Leaves Plenty of Room for Improvement

New Federal Rule Would Require SUVs to Become More Efficient

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Under a new federal fuel economy rule released today, smaller sport utility vehicles (SUVs) will have to meet the same fuel-efficiency standards as passenger cars, a move that consumer group Public Citizen called a silver lining in an otherwise anemic attempt to reduce the nation’s dependence on oil consumption.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) rule will affect vehicles in the model year 2011 and will require the overall U.S. light-duty vehicle fleet to reach 27.3 miles per gallon (mpg), with cars meeting an average of 30.2 mpg and light trucks attaining 24.1 mpg. A projected 1.4 million two-wheel drive SUVs will now have to meet the stricter passenger car standard. While the 27.3 mpg rule is a slight improvement over the existing 25 mpg industry standard, it is well below what can be achieved through existing technology.

In issuing its new rule, NHTSA also said it would reevaluate the method used to set the fuel economy standard as it develops rules for the 2012 model year and beyond.

“NHTSA’s current methodology is weighted heavily toward keeping automakers happy, rather than satisfying the public’s urgent need for safe, fuel-efficient vehicles,” said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, Public Citizen’s acting president. “The Obama administration has a golden opportunity to rewrite the rules and show Detroit it’s no longer business as usual.”

The new rule also reverses NHTSA’s stance toward states setting their own greenhouse gas emission standards. When NHTSA proposed its initial fuel-economy rule in April, it stated that any state attempt to regulate greenhouse gasses would be pre-empted by the federal fuel economy standard. NHTSA made this statement even though the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 established the right of states to issue greenhouse gas emissions standards.

Similarly, the Environmental Protection Agency is reconsidering its decision last year to deny California’s request for a waiver that would allow it and 13 other states to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.

“NHTSA has a lot of catch-up work to set future standards that put the nation on the right track toward reducing oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions and protecting national security,” said Joan Claybrook, the immediate past president of Public Citizen who led NHTSA during the Carter administration and issued the country’s first fuel economy standards. “NHTSA’s first fuel economy rule issued in 1977 for 1985 vehicles required cars to meet 27.5 miles per gallon. Twenty-six years later, the new 2011 standard is less than 3 miles per gallon better.”