Fuel Economy Standards
By the Sierra Club - Last update: May 8, 2001
Cars and light trucks consume 40 percent of the oil used in the U.S. every day -- some 8 million barrels - and emit 20 percent of U.S. carbon pollution that is causing global warming. Raising Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards (CAFE) standards is the biggest single step the United States can take to reduce oil consumption and curb global warming. Raising CAFE standards must be part of a balanced and responsible energy plan.
Raising CAFE standards to 40 miles per gallon for cars and light trucks would save more oil than our Persian Gulf imports, offshore California drilling and potential deposits in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge combined.
Raising fuel economy standards for new cars, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and other light trucks to an average of 40 miles per gallon over the next decade would save 3 million barrels of oil per day, or 50 billion barrels of oil over the next 50 years. This is some eight to 15 times more oil than the U.S. Geological Survey says is economically recoverable from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge over the same period under plausible world oil price assumption.
If new cars and light trucks averaged 40 miles per gallon, we would save 1,507 gallons of gasoline per second.
Switching from driving an average new car to a 13 mpg SUV for one year wastes more energy than if you left your refrigerator door open for 6 years, left your bathroom light burning for 30 years or left your color television on for 28 years.
S. 804: Closing the Light Truck Loophole
Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have introduced a bill that will require light trucks to meet the same 27.5 mpg CAFE standard as cars, require even the largest SUVs that are now exempt from CAFE to be included in the system, and raise the fuel economy of the government's fleet of vehicles by 6 mpg in 2005. In 1999, the light truck loophole cost consumers $27 billion at the pump. S. 804 would save at least 1 million barrels of oil per day, reduce U.S. carbon dioxide pollution by 240 million metric tons and save consumers billions at the gas pump.
The average fuel economy of new vehicles sold last year sank to its lowest point since 1980.
Because of riders attached to the Transportation Appropriations bill since FY 1996 by friends of the auto industry in Congress, the Department of Transportation has been barred from even studying new fuel economy standards. Meanwhile, oil consumption has continued to rise. The auto industry does not plan to have a rider attached to the Transportation Appropriations bill for FY 2002.
The Benefits of CAFE Standards
The Economy and Energy Security: Current CAFE standards save more than 3 million barrels of oil per day. Without these savings, the U.S. would be importing at least 1.5 million barrels a day more oil than we currently do.
Today, 40 percent of the oil we use goes to run our cars and light trucks. Nearly half of the 19 million barrels a day of oil we use is imported from overseas. This contributes more than $50 billion to our merchandise trade deficit. By early in this century, the Energy Information Agency projects we will be importing nearly two-thirds of our oil.
OPEC has been reminding us that it controls oil supplies and prices. The U.S. uses 25 percent of the world's oil yet has only 3 percent of the world's oil reserves. We cannot drill our way to independence.
Creating Jobs: Importantly, raising CAFE standards will create jobs. An analysis by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy concludes that the consumer savings at the pump would translate into a net increase of 244,000 jobs nationwide, with 47,000 of these in the auto industry.
Consumer Savings: Because fuel economy for cars doubled between 1975 and the late 1980s, a new car purchaser saves an average of more than $3,000 at the gas pump over the lifetime of the car, at today's prices. Annually, CAFE delivers more than $40 billion in consumer savings. And, raising light truck fuel economy to 27.5 miles per gallon, for example, would save new light trucks owners dollars at the pump. According the Union of Concerned Scientists, the most popular SUV sold in the U.S., the Ford
Explorer, could go from a 19 mpg gas-guzzler to a 34 mpg vehicle, using $935 in technology. Consumers would save several times this amount at the gas pump over the lifetime of the vehicle.
The Environment: CAFE standards slash urban smog by reducing carcinogenic hydrocarbon emissions, a key ozone smog precursor. Since less gas is used by cars and light trucks, less oil has to be refined, transported and pumped into gas tanks. Increasing CAFE standards will be much better for the environment than the diesel SUVs being developed by the auto companies. While switching to diesel improves fuel economy somewhat, doing so would sharply increase the pollution that causes soot and smog that triggers asthma attacks and causes cancer -- a lousy trade-off for public health.
The second way the environment is helped is through lower carbon emissions, reducing the atmospheric buildup of greenhouse gases. Over its lifetime, a typical SUV emits more almost 100 tons of CO2 and today's average new car emits 70 tons over the same lifetime and driving assumptions. Ford's "Valdez" Excursion will emit 134 tons of CO2 overt its lifetime. The more efficient the truck or car, the lower the CO2 emissions. Implementing improved CAFE standards is the biggest single step we can take to curb global warming and saving oil.
For more information, contact Ann Mesnikoff, Sierra Club, 202/675-7902
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