Environmental Groups Push for 60 MPG Automobiles

By: Nick Engelfried 

September 27, 2010

In spring of 2010, the United States increased federal fuel efficiency standards for automobiles for the first time in twenty years.  The new standards implemented by the Barack Obama administration this year require cars in the US auto fleet be able to travel an average of 35.5 miles on a gallon of gas by the year 2016.  Now environmental groups are working to ensure it doesn’t take another two decades to raise fuel efficiency standards again.  Organizations like the Sierra Club are pushing the Obama administration to support a 60 mile per gallon fuel economy standard by the year 2025.

Later this fall, the Obama administration is scheduled to finalize new standards for automobile efficiency that will go into effect after the current ones expire in 2016.  Environmental groups argue that by making cars gradually more efficient over time, the US can reduce dependence on oil while cutting back on vehicle emissions that cause global warming and other environmental problems.  Setting a goal of 60 miles per gallon by 2020, groups like Environment America and the Sierra Club say, will give automakers time to prepare to make their vehicles more efficient.

A 60 mile per gallon average fuel efficiency standard will likely seem more attainable as the number of hybrid and electric cars increases in the US.  The Sierra Club estimates it would be feasible to reach this goal if by the year 2025, 55% of US vehicles are hybrids and 15% are electric.  Remaining internal combustion engine cars would also need to be as streamlined and lightweight as possible, and inefficient gas guzzlers would have to be phased out. 

Nationwide, cars and other personal vehicles account for about 25% of US greenhouse gas emissions.  Though that’s not as much pollution as comes from power plants, making automobiles more efficient is a relatively easy way to quickly reduce the causes of global warming.  While replacing old coal plants with renewable energy will require some challenging technological feats, the technology exists today to build cars that pollute less by burning less gasoline.

Public opinion polls also show the US public is strongly supportive of raising fuel efficiency standards.  According to a national poll cited by the Sierra Club, 74% of those surveyed are supportive of adopting the 60 miles per gallon standard by 2025.  When asked whether making the shift would be worth it even if it adds $3,000 to the price of a car, 66% of respondents said yes.  It seems that after years of unstable gas prices, more consumers are coming to realize that an efficient car will eventually pay for itself by saving money at the gas pump.   

So will a 60 mile per gallon car fleet really hit the streets of the US within fifteen years?  It remains to be seen whether the Obama administration will take the advice of environmental groups as new fuel economy rules are finalized.  But whether the standard is 60 miles per gallon or some other figure, the US may be facing its best chance in decades to dramatically decrease demand for gasoline and all the environmental problems that go with it.

Photo credit: Donald Rogers

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