Massachusetts Lifts Ban on Bake Sales

Life is sweet again for cupcake lovers.
On Thursday, May 10, the Massachusetts legislature ditched a controversial law passed earlier this month that would ban junk food sold in the cafeteria, treats brought in for birthday celebrations, and yes, bake sales, too.
Set to take effect on August 1, the law on nutritional standards in school didn’t sit too well with parents or legislators, who considered the move too extreme. Faced with rising waves of criticism, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick had no choice but to repeal the restriction, urging public health officials to back down.
Now, while the strict nutrition standards will stand in the cafeteria, with sweets barred from vending machines, snack shops, and lunch-line fare, classrooms will be free from the restraints. That means holiday cupcakes in classrooms are once again legal and bake sale fundraisers are back on.
But Patrick and his team emphasize that despite the supposed setback, Massachusetts, has not given up the battle against childhood obesity, determined to cut down calories, sugar, and waistlines in schools.
“The school nutrition standards have always been about reducing childhood obesity in Massachusetts and protecting our kids from the serious long-term health impacts that obesity can cause,’’said John Auerbach, state public health commissioner, in a statement to reporters.
“At the direction of Governor Patrick, the department will seek to remove these provisions. We hope to return the focus to how we can work together to make our schools healthy environments in which our children can thrive.’’
Much of the outcry against the ban on bake sales came from extracurricular advisors at schools, who say that the sale of cookies and cupcakes accounts for a large portion of the cash they need to keep after-school programs running.
Terri L. Murphy, who works as treasurer for the Music, Art, and Drama Association in Ipswich, Massachusetts, told the Boston Globe that upon hearing news of the new law, she e-mailed Ipswich representative Bradford Hill to plead her case.
“It was like, ‘Oh, no, we’re going to lose about $6,000 a year,’” said Murphy, adding that while the program offers up healthy goodies for sale, they don’t bring in the money like good old-fashioned brownies and donuts do.
“Do we put out apples and oranges and yogurt? Yes. Do they sell? No.”
But proponents of the law retort that profits shouldn’t come above health, noting that many schools have successfully raised money for programs without resorting to sweet snacks.
“We are telling the students you need to eat healthy except if you want to purchase something in the corridor to support an organization, so then it’s OK if you eat unhealthy,’’ said Gail Koutroubas, food service director of the Andover public schools and president of the School Nutrition Association of Massachusetts, when speaking to the Boston Globe.
Despite the controversy, however, Massachusetts officials remain optimistic, sure that they are sailing in the right direction.
“Nobody’s interested in banning bake sales,’’ said Governor Patrick. “What we are interested in is student nutrition and delivering good choices.’’
Photo Credit: wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/File:Strawberry_cupcakes.jpg

Obama Administration Proposes First-Ever Carbon Dioxide Regulations

Obama administration has proposed a new set of rules that, for the first time ever, would strictly regulate carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants, cutting emissions from some plants by as much as half. Power plants currently account for 40 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, and there are no limits or regulations that control how much carbon the plants can burn.

The legislation, called the Carbon Pollution Standard, would mandate that all new coal plants be built to emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. Emission from coal plants that are being built today range from 1,600 to 1,900 pounds per hour, while new natural gas-powered plants emit about 800 pounds per hour. The law won’t apply to existing coal plants, but the federal government is expected to enforce regulations on those plans later.

Next to vehicles, coal-powered plants are one of the largest sources of carbon pollution in the country, and carbon dioxide is the largest contributing polluter to worldwide climate change and global warming. Climate scientists have agreed that, in order to reverse climate change, the level of carbon dioxide needs to be lowered to under 350 parts per million worldwide. As carbon dioxide is released into the air, its tiny particles of polluting material cause respiratory problems and also cause the global temperature to rise, about 1 degree Celsius per year. For each additional degree that the temperature rises, it is thought that carbon dioxide pollution causes as many as 20,000 pollution-related deaths per year.

Although plans to build new coal plants are seldom seen these days, environmental groups still view the proposed legislation as an important step in the right direction, and as a way to address climate change at a national level.

“I think it is a landmark rule, because what this essentially says is we will never be building dirty old coal plants ever again,” Michael Brune of the Sierra Club told the LA Times. “The dominant power source of the 19th and 20th centuries won’t be built the same again.”

“I think the administration releasing a proposed regulation for greenhouse gases for new plants is as strong a signal that anyone can ask for about how seriously they are addressing the threat of climate change,” said Megan Ceronsky, an attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, told the LA Times.

The mining industry, which supplies the coal used to power the plants, opposes the projected mandate and fears that it will eliminate jobs and slow down the economy – an anxiety expressed by most groups who are opposed to the nation’s progression toward green energy. Switching to cleaner energy, such as solar power, however, will create – and already has created — thousands of new green-collar jobs nationwide.

However, the law already faces opposition from conservationist groups as well. Some environmentalists are afraid that the legislation won’t be enforced, while others think that it isn’t strict enough. Environmental group CREDO Action believes that the proposed Carbon Pollution Standard allows too many loopholes for coal companies to slide through, and that it is not harsh enough in regulating emissions from coal plants. In a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CREDO Action said, “[I]n today’s actual climate – where much of our country just experienced record-shattering March heat waves after a disturbing lack of winter – it is not nearly enough. It is not only disappointing but profoundly dangerous that this rule does little if anything to effectively reduce unregulated climate pollution … If EPA fails to take action on existing power plants, then the measured progress represented by yesterday’s rule will go down in history as a symbolic though essentially empty gesture.”

CREDO Action’s petition targets the EPA and asks them to add regulations for existing coal plants to the proposed legislation.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/free-stock/6816851232

California Governor Jerry Brown Looks to Reduce Holding Time of Animals in Shelters

In an effort to take shave off millions of dollars from California’s growing annual deficit, Governor Jerry Brown is looking to repeal a landmark legislation aimed to support thousands of animals that end up in animal shelters every year.  Hayden’s Law, first passed in 1998, and written by former state Senator Tom Hayden, lengthens the amount of time California animal shelters must hold on to animals before they are euthanized.

For Tom Hayden, it was simply a matter of ensuring that animals that are adoptable or lost find their way into a home or back to their families.  To get a good idea on just what the benefits of Hayden’s Law are, imagine that you are a pet owner.  You recently lost your animal and despite desperate searching you still come up short.  You want to make it to your nearest animal shelter but because you work, you cannot find time to do so in time before they close.  Little did you know, however, that your animal was at the shelter but after only a couple of days your animal was put down because no one came in to claim it.  Heartbreaking.

Under Hayden’s Law, a portion of the state budget would be set aside so that animal shelters have the means to hold on to animals for upwards of four to six days—giving pet owners and prospective owners more time to visit the shelter, and animals a better chance of making it into a home.  Even more, Hayden’s Law requires that animal shelters extend their regular business hours, staying open later on some nights of the week and even opening on the weekend. 

And for what it is worth, Hayden’s Law has worked.  The proof is in the numbers: in 1997, the year before Hayden’s Law was passed, the California Department of Public Health found that “576,097 dogs and cats were put down in California shelters.  The year the law went into effect that number dropped to 32,991.  But in 2009, the year after the mandate was suspended by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the number rose again to 455,046.”  With Hayden’s Law in place, more lost animals were reunited with their families and more adoptable pets found new homes of their own.

By repealing Hayden’s Law, government officials hope to save $23 million that would otherwise be spent to save these helpless animals.  But this is not sitting well with many activists throughout the state including Tom Hayden.  In a YouTube video posted by the former Senator, Hayden presses Governor Jerry Brown to think about his own dog, Sutter, “before you allow this bill that protects animals to die.”

For supporters of Hayden’s Law, euthanasia comes as an absolute last resort with the most focus being paid to the animals and getting them paired up with the families. While it may seem like a quick-fix to the state’s financial problems, state officials need to remember that if it is money that they are looking for, then there is plenty of it to be had in the pet adoption business.  To urge Governor Jerry Brown to reconsider his position to repeal Hayden’s Law, please sign the petition here.

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New Bill Looks to Make Attendance at Animal Fighting Events Illegal

In an effort to stop the brutal “sport” that is animal fighting, United States Representatives Tom Marino (R) of Pennsylvania and Betty Sutton (D) of Ohio have recently introduced a new federal legislation that would make it a misdemeanor offense to attend any organized animal fighting event and enforce additional penalties (making it a felony) for bringing, or causing, a minor to attend such an event.  In a sense it would be rounding out existing laws to completely eradicate this type of severe animal cruelty across the country. 

Animal fighting is a grossly deliberate violation of animal’s rights and can involve any number of animals; however, most commonly feature roosters, dogs, and even hogs.  During a match, a fight is instigated between animals who are then egged on by handlers and gamblers to continue until either one or both of the animals give up or die.  Animals that survive the attack are often times physically mutated and left with even deeper emotional scars. 

Organized animal fights are illegal everywhere in the United States, but tracking down when and where these events take place is another harder subject to tackle altogether.  Fights are usually hidden behind closed doors and require passwords and large entrance fees in order to attend.  Gamblers blend in with spectators and vice versa making it difficult to tell who to hold responsible and making it easy for the guilty parties to escape into a crowd avoiding punishment.

There is also strong evidence to suggest that people who are involved in animal fighting, or the gambling on the events, partake in other criminal activities.  The Chicago Police Department, who conducted research on this correlation over a period of three years, found that “70 percent of animal offenders had also been arrested for other felonies, including domestic and aggravated battery, illegal drug trafficking and sex crimes.” 

“Animal fighting events are barbaric and cesspools of gang and other criminal activity,” explains Senator Scott Brown (R) of Massachusetts.  It is hoped that by enforcing stricter laws against animal fighting and those in attendance, it will help to curve the crime rates in other areas.  Hence the new bill: H.R. 2492, otherwise known as “Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act of 2011.”

Wayne Pacelle, CEO and President of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), agrees with the new bill and the change it hopes to bring.  “Spectators are participants and accomplices who enable the crime of animal fighting, provide a large share of the funding for the criminal enterprise through their admission fees and gambling wagers, and help conceal handlers and organizers who try to blend into the crowd when the bust occurs.” This new legislation will hold all in attendance accountable for the crime being committed, lessening the margin of error. For many it is a cheap way at a corrupted livelihood…for the animals, it is their lives. 

It is almost a wonder that a bill like this has not been passed before.  With this last legislation, it is hoped that this will all—what so many have spent much time and effort working towards—come to an end.  “Animal fighting is a horrible and barbaric activity, and by making it a federal crime for individuals to knowingly attend these events or bring minors to them, we will make tremendous strides in putting an end to it once and for all,” explain Sutton.

For the time being, many senators are already becoming involved with and in support of the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act.  Even Michael Vick has shown his support.  Yet until it becomes official, members of the United States Senate and other members of government must be urged to get behind this progressive measure. To show your support for the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, and to urge your Congress members to support the measure, click here and sign the petition.  

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New Management Plan May Allow Logging, Road Building in Sequoia National Monument

Following over a decade of debate, logging threats, various management proposals, and two successful lawsuits, the United States Forest Service has released yet another version of their management plan for the Giant Sequoia National Monument.  This proposal is apparently gaining no more approval than any of the previous ones, primarily because of its persisting intentions to implement management methods like logging and road building, which some government offices and many environmental agencies find to be destructive and counter to the intentions set forth by the creation of the monument.

The new management plan hopes to implement road building methods to grant more access to the park and logging with the intention of curbing unwanted fires and to relieve crowding that could prevent healthy growth and reproduction of the sequoias.

Who and What Are Involved

The Giant Sequoia National Monument is a 328,000-acre national monument that stands adjacent to the Sequoia National Forest. While the Sequoia National Forest is administered by the United States Park Service, the Giant Sequoia National Monument is administered by the United States Forest Service. This difference in agency jurisdiction has become a source of confusion and controversy in the ongoing debate over how the monument should be managed.

The US Park Service is a division of the Department of Agriculture. Its stated mission is “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.” Its government website states that it is dedicated “to restore and enhance landscapes” and to “protect and enhance water resources” among other things.

Continuing Controversy

The Giant Sequoia National Monument was created in 2000 by then President Bill Clinton. The document creating the monument specifically addresses two of the proposed management methods: logging of smaller trees around the sequoias and road building. It reads: “No portion of the monument shall be considered to be suited for timber production”, and “No new roads or trails will be authorized within the monument except to further the purposes of the monument.”

In the decade since its creation in 2000, several drafts of a management plan (which was to be created within three years) have been released, and due to public outcry and government intervention, denied under allegations of insufficient or irresponsible measures, the most objectionable being logging and road building. Last year’s management plan was objected to by 48 members of congress.

The US Forest Service’s newest proposal explicitly states that “[r]oad construction can change how much or at what time water enters or leaves the soils where sequoia trees grow.” Road building decreases surface permeability, inhibiting soil infiltration, which can be particularly threatening to trees with very shallow root systems like the sequoias.  However, most of the proposed plan alternatives call for strategies that would most probably call for construction of new roads. These strategies include increased transportation, construction of scenic routes, and further development of recreational areas.  The article explicitly states that only one of the six management alternatives would not require any new roads.

According to the proposal document, it would still protect the sequoias, but allow “tree cutting and removal” of surrounding trees that may be vital to the ecosystem that supports the sequoias. Environmental groups in opposition to the proposal submit that removal of these trees would encourage erosion while inhibiting vital water retention in the soil. The US Forest Service claims that the removal of these trees would occur “when clearly needed for ecological restoration.”

Past Offenses

Whether or not logging took place within the monument has been a source of debate. While some deny that any logging went on,  many sources, including The Sierra Club, UC Davis, and California Representative Sam Farr (D) claim that not only has logging been going on within the monument, but that the logging may have in fact been commercial logging which is specifically forbidden by former President Clinton’s document creating the monument.  

In 2006, the State of California and the Sierra Club won both of their lawsuits against the United States Forest Service. Part of these lawsuits included the Service’s intentions to allow a 2000-acre commercial logging project to take place in the monument, in response to then President Bush’s attempts to grandfather in the logging contracts, since they were signed before the monument was created.

Current Action

Backed by several environmental groups, California congressman Sam Farr has called on President Obama to transfer the management of the national monument to the US Parks Service, with the idea that the agency would manage it more responsibly.

The Sierra Club is calling on its members to petition Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to withdraw the current plan and draft a new one that explicitly bans logging. Public opinion has been shown to succeed in preventing implementation of previous plans, so if you would like to join the Sierra Club in this action, visit their petition page.

 Photo credit: nps.gov/seki/photosmultimedia/Sequoias.htm

CA Attorney General Files Suit against Bottled Water Companies

On Wednesday, October 26th, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, filed suit against the three national companies, ENSO Plastics, the makers of the water bottles and two retail sellers of bottled water,  Aquamantra and Balance Water.

The lawsuit claims that the water bottles are mislabeled as being ‘biodegradable’ and do not decompose naturally as claimed. Labels on the bottles claim to have a microbial additive that would render the bottle biodegradable. The lawsuit asserts that this is wrong, that the microbial additive does not aid the breakdown process and instead only renders the bottles unrecyclable as the additive is considered a destructive contaminant that could pollute other recycled material.

Under a 2008 California law signed by then governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, no plastic food or beverage container can be labeled as biodegradable, degradable, or compostable. This year, governor Jerry Brown expanded the law to include all plastic products, from food and beverage containers to any other common plastic material. This lawsuit could potentially set an important precedent in the way companies and manufacturers of plastics label their products.

The mislabeling of products as being more environmentally friendly is a not a new occurrence, nor is this the first time a bottled water company has been sued. Earlier this year, Fiji water was sued for falsely claiming to be carbon-negative. With the rise of the ‘green’ movement and the increase in consumers leaning towards environmentally-friendly products, the practice of greenwashing, or deceptively misleading consumers into believing a product is more environmentally-friendly than it really is, has also increased.

There are several things you can do to avoid the misleading and environmentally harmful practice of greenwashing.

  • Stop supporting companies such as Fiji, Aquamantra and Balance that lie about the biodegradability and sustainability of their products. Stop buying their products until they stop deceptively labeling their bottles.
  • Stop purchasing single use water bottles overall. Buy a reuseable water bottle and drink tap water instead. Bottled water is in no way safer to drink that tap water, and is in fact much more environmentally wasteful and can even be harmful for human consumption.
  • Keep informed on which companies are actually environmentally-friendly and which are only marketing themselves as such. Greenpeace maintains a comprehensive site that details many companies deceptive marketing practices.

Photo Credit:flickr.com/photos/dotjay/39927300/sizes/s/in/photostream/

EPA Extends Comment Period on Groundbreaking Oil and Gas Proposal

Last Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a month-long extension to the original 60-day public comment period regarding its proposed changes to national oil and gas drilling standards. This includes what would be the first national standards for fracking.

The proposal, which was released in July of this year, would enforce new rules that would not only seek to improve air quality, but would benefit the oil and gas industry as well. The new rule would add well completion, compressors, pneumatic controllers, and storage vessels to the EPA’s New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), which currently only include processing plants.

According to the EPA, these new standards would reduce industry-wide volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by 25%, methane emission by 26%, and toxic air pollutants by 30%. By capturing the methane gas that, under current practices escapes into the air, the industry could save almost $30 million a year.

To gauge public opinion on the proposed changes, the EPA held conferences in Pittsburgh, Denver, and Arlington, Texas.  Recordings of these hearings, as well as a detailed outline of the proposal, are available on the agency’s website.

The proposal includes regulation for fracking, an increasingly popular retrieval method that involves forcing thousands of gallons of water and chemicals into the ground to fracture rock. Congress previously barred the EPA from creating fracking regulations, leaving it up to individual states. In some cases, especially on the east coast, this lead to unsafe disposal practices.

Fracking waste water contains not only the toxic chemicals used in the process itself, but can also contain heavy metals and radioactive material that are brought up as the water is removed from the rock. Under some states’ current standards, drilling companies are allowed to pass their waste water through public sewers, which are not always sufficiently equipped. This means that in some instances the waste can end up in streams, killing fish and contaminating drinking water. While the regulations do not explicitly address water contamination, they would provide a national standard for fracking-attributed air pollution, reducing VOC emissions and possibly providing an important premise for future regulations.

The 30-day extension may be contributed to pressure from natural gas and oil producers to extend to comment period, as well as the final ruling date from February 28 to April 3, 2012. If the EPA did indeed extend the comment period for this reason, public support of the regulations may become increasingly important during the next month.

To offer your support of the EPA’s proposed changes to gas and oil retrieval and processing practices, you can submit a comment directly to the EPA or through the Sierra Club.

Photo credit: epa.gov/sciencematters/june2010/images/fracking.jpg

California Governor Signs Shark Finning Ban into Law

On October 7, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Shark Finning Ban (Assembly Bill 376), which will prohibit the sale, trade and possession of shark fins throughout the state. However, the bill still allows sport fishermen who catch a shark to eat its fin themselves or have the shark stuffed for personal display, such as for a trophy.

The bill’s supporters, including environmentalists, believe that shark finning is a threat to the world’s shark population, and that the survival of some types of sharks is directly linked to a ban on shark finning. Along with Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), Fong introduced the bill with the belief that the shark population needs to recover from a global overfishing epidemic that has wiped out large numbers of sharks. A poll among California’s 1.1 million Chinese Americans indicated that 70 percent favored the ban. Other supporters of the bill include celebrities, retired Chinese NBA player Yao Ming, environmental groups and activist organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States.

Shark finning is commonly practiced in Asian countries, where fishermen at sea slice the dorsal fin off of the living shark and toss the injured animal back into the ocean, as there is a low demand for shark meat (while some sharks fished are used for their meat, leather and liver oil, the majority of finned sharks are not used for these purposes). Blue sharks are the most common type of shark hunted for their fins; an estimated 10 million blue shark fins are collected per year. The majority of harvested shark fins are used in shark fin soup, a traditional – and expensive – Chinese delicacy, which is typically served at weddings and other formal occasions, and is seen as a symbol of elevated status. The demand for shark fins is increasing, making the trade continuously profitable. Shark fins are also used in makeup, vitamins and medicine. 

According to the LA Times, dried shark fins can sell for as much as $2,000 a pound, and caterers can lose up to $200 per plate if they omit shark fin soup from their banquet menus. The newspaper reports that Brown said in a statement, “The practice of cutting the fins off of living sharks and dumping them back in the ocean is not only cruel, but it harms the health of our oceans. In the interest of future generations, I have signed this bill.”

Populations of some sharks have declined by 85 to 99 percent in the past 20 years, according to researchers. It is estimated that 73 million sharks each year are killed when their fins are sliced off, causing them to bleed to death. Eighty-five percent of shark fins devoured in the United States are eaten by California diners, and the state’s shark fin trade is the largest outside of Asia.

The signing of this bill hasn’t quelled protests against it, however. Chinese restaurant chefs and consumers of traditional Chinese food say that the new law intentionally attacks Chinese cuisine and tradition. California’s Asian legislators were split between the decision, with Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Cupertino) and others in favor of the ban, while some legislators called the bill racist and discriminatory, as shark fin soup only appears on Chinese menus. Some legislators also expressed concern that the bill does not prevent endangered sharks from being fished for their meat or other purposes.

California’s ban means that the sale of shark fins is now banned throughout the West Coast, as Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and Guam also have bans in place. The new law will take effect on January 1, 2012 and will allow the sale of shark fins acquired before the law was signed until July 1, 2013.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/cloneofsnake/6191090547/

Obama Rejects New EPA Ozone Standards

On Friday, September 2nd, President Obama announced that he would abandon a proposed rule by the Environmental Protection Agency to alter the standards on ground-level ozone.  The new draft of the Ozone National Air Quality Standards would have set ground-level ozone standards from 75 parts per billion to 60 to 70 parts per billion. The current standard of 75 parts per billion was established in 2008 by former president George Bush.     

Ozone, a gas composed of three oxygen atoms is found in the stratosphere and the troposphere and depending on its location can be considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’. ‘Good’ ozone, found in the stratosphere, protects the Earth from harmful ultraviolet rays. At the trophosphere, ground-level ozone is caused by a chemical reaction between oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight and can cause a whole host of health problems ranging from minor chest pains, coughing, throat irritation to more serious issues like bronchitis, emphysema and asthma. Environmentally, ground-level ozone can have many harmful effects including “reduced agricultural crop and commercial forest yields, reduced growth and survivability of tree seedlings, and increased susceptibility to diseases, pests and other stresses such as harsh weather.” Under the Clean Air Act, the presidential administration must review air pollution regulations every five years and set standards based on scientific research to protect public health.  The standards set in 2008 by the Bush administration were more stringent that the previous levels of 1997 but not up o the recommendations at the time. The standards are up again for review in 2013.

With his approval rating at 40%, President Obama has shown a pronounced shift in policy emphasis towards the faltering economy. The president rejected the new standard, electing to focus on the struggling economy rather than a key environmental issue, claiming that “the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover.” Many counties in the United States that would not meet the new standards would be forced to undergo costly restructuring estimating with enforcement of the new rule potentially costing between $19 and $90 billion. However, EPA figures placed the amount of money saved from pollution based health costs at $100 billion dollars in addition to the prevention of some 12,000 premature deaths.

The decision has trigger an outpouring of disappointment and anger. Some organizations such as the American Lung Association plan to challenge the decision in court with the ALA president, Charles D. Connor chastising of the administration, “Its final decision not to enact a more protective ozone health standard is jeopardizing the health of millions of Americans, which is inexcusable.”

Also to be seen is what effect this will have on President Obama’s reelection chances as this decision potentially upsets his environmental base.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/marcn/2174935053/sizes/m/in/photostream/

President Obama Announces Tough New Fuel Efficiency Standards

President Obama announced the toughest fuel efficiency regulations that this country has seen, calling the agreement “the single most important step we’ve ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.” Cars and light trucks manufactured beginning in the model year 2017 will have to meet a new standard of 54.5 miles per gallon in order to meet a 2025 goal. These stringent standards build upon current standards set to take effect next year, in which vehicles manufactured beginning in the model year 2012 must run at 35.5 miles per gallon, to meet a 2016 goal. The United States began setting goals for fuel efficiency about 40 years ago, and current standards are roughly 27 miles per gallon.

In a speech, the President declared that the new terms will save the American people $2 trillion in fuel costs overall, while saving drivers $8,000 per car. American dependence on foreign oil will decrease by a total of 12 billion barrels and 2.2 million barrels per day – roughly half of the total amount of oil this country imports from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), he said, and “just as cars will go further on a gallon of gas, our economy will go further on a barrel of oil […] this will help meet the goal that I’ve set for America: reducing our dependence on foreign oil by one-third”. With a decrease in oil use comes a significant drop in carbon emissions, which are largely caused by the transportation industry.

At the forefront of this historic compromise are 13 major auto companies that represent 90 percent of cars sold in the United States, including Michigan-based Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. Two years ago, these three American auto giants were on the brink of extinction, but now they are leading an effort that could repair their once-struggling businesses and place them at the top of the American auto industry once again.

The fuel efficiency standards, agreed upon by the auto industry as well as Congress members, environmental NGOs and the state of California, will rely on research to develop new technologies to improve the way cars consume fuel. Ron Bloom, Assistant to the President for Manufacturing Policy, and Heather Zichal, Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy Policy, noted that “safety is always paramount” when considering requirements for the auto industry, and expect the growth of fuel-efficient technology to spur a “host of different technologies that will help us achieve those standards and protect consumer choice”, including combustion engines, to uphold the safety standards for cars of all sizes. This exploration of innovative technologies will boost the economy and use of alternative fuel, bring jobs to Americans and support startup businesses with bright, fresh ideas. Zichal and Bloom do not expect the federal government to have to provide funding for the development of these technologies, as the proposal focused on methods that are available and viable.

While Bloom acknowledged that achieving the strict standards will be difficult for automakers, he said, “We don’t apologize for challenging them. Saving the American consumers $1.7 trillion is a worthwhile endeavor. We are confident that the automobile manufacturers will be able to absorb the additional costs and still sell cars for a profit.” American consumers, he argued, are influenced by fuel efficiency and take that factor into heavy consideration when purchasing a vehicle.

Under these improved guidelines, consumers will generally only have to fill up their tanks every two weeks instead of every week, a net savings that will offset any potential rise in vehicle purchasing costs. The new rules likely won’t be officially implemented until next year, but if they are, buyers can expect to see a lower miles-per-gallon estimate on car stickers. Roland Hwang, transportation director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, observed that due to the method of fuel efficiency calculations, the figure customers will see listed at dealerships will likely be around 40 miles per gallon, still almost twice that of the current average of 22 miles per gallon.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/traftery/3720692319/