Tougher Fuel Efficiency Standards Could Save NJ Drivers More Than $1 Billion

Tom Johnson | August 29, 2012 | Energy & Environment
At nearly 55 miles per gallon, cleaner cars and trucks could cruise past the pump

The Obama administration yesterday adopted tougher fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, a move that could save motorists in New Jersey more than $1 billion by 2025, according to proponents of the regulations.

In a press conference, U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the new rules, which would increase the average efficiency of vehicles to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, represents the biggest domestic step ever taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“By the middle of the next decade, our cars will get nearly 55 miles per gallon, almost double what they get today,’’ said President Obama in a press release issued by the White House. “It’ll strengthen our nation’s energy security; it’s good for middleclass families; and it will help create an economy built to last.’’

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The measure follows up an earlier initiative by the EPA and U.S. Department of Transportation, which increased fuel efficiency for cars to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. Most major auto manufacturers backed both of the new rules.

The Auto Alliance, an industry trade group, has called for a single, national program because conflicting requirements from various jurisdictions raise costs, ultimately driving up the price to consumers.

“We all want to get more fuel-efficient autos on our roads, and a single, national program with a strong midterm review helps us get to that shared goal,’’ the association said in a statement released after the press conference. The midterm review occurs five years into the program to assess how well manufacturers are complying with the mandate.

New Jersey played an important role in pushing the federal government to adopt tougher fuel-efficiency standards. It was among 13 states, including California, to require cleaner-running cars to be sold in their jurisdictions, a step that led auto manufacturers to relent in their opposition to a national standard.

“The Obama administration’s new clean-car standards are a monumental leap forward in the must-win battle to tackle global warming and get New Jersey off oil,’’ said Doug O’Malley, interim director of Environment New Jersey.

In announcing the rules, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the fuel savings achieved by motorists far outweigh the increased cost of buying vehicles to comply with the tougher efficiency standards.

According to the administration, average fuel savings will total more than $8,000 by 2025 over the lifetime of a vehicle, compared with $1,800 for a more fuel-efficient car.

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The Institute of Energy Research disputed that view.

“Because the fuel economy mandate drives up the price of cars and trucks, millions of hard-working Americans will be priced out of the market,’’ said Daniel Simmons, director or regulatory affairs. “Nearly seven million Americans may not be able to afford a car or truck because of this ill-conceived decision.’’

Clean energy advocates and environmentalists, however, argued that the tougher fuel standards could create thousands of new jobs, besides saving consumers money at the gas pump and reducing pollution.

In New Jersey alone, 18,000 jobs could be created by 2030 because of the new rules, saving drivers more than 520 million gallons of gasoline, for a total of $1.12 billion, according to an analysis by the Blue-Green Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Everybody is a winner today,’’ said Frances Beinecke, president of the NRDC. “The auto industry—and its workers—win because these standards will spur the creation of thousands of new jobs as well as state-of-the-art vehicles that go nearly twice as far on the same gallon of gasoline.’’

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, agreed. “Pollution from automobiles is the largest source of pollution we face,’’ he said. “This will not only help to decrease pollution, but help save us money through buying less fuel. It is good for the environment, economy, and our wallets.’’