The Obama administration on Tuesday introduced new rules to double fuel economy for cars and light-duty trucks by 2025, a move that the White House says will be comparable to cutting a dollar a gallon from the price of gasoline and that auto dealers warned would raise the cost of a new car.
The new rules boost fuel economy to the equivalent of 54.5 miles per gallon over the next 13 years, building on the White House's existing effort to raise fuel economy to 35.5 mpg by 2016. The new rules are aimed at prodding manufacturers to make more fuel-efficient cars even as the standards lower fuel consumption and dramatically curb greenhouse gas emissions.
"These fuel standards represent the single most important step we've ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "By the middle of the next decade our cars will get nearly 55 miles per gallon, almost double what they get today. It'll strengthen our nation's energy security, it's good for middle-class families and it will help create an economy built to last."
Last year, 13 major automakers and the United Auto Workers announced support for the new standards, which average across a carmaker's entire fleet.
Auto Alliance, the major industry trade organization, praised a section of the new rules that will review after five years whether the standards are achievable and working.
"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 closer to that shared goal," the group said in a statement.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he opposes the new standards and doesn't believe it's the right approach to have manufacturers meet them by building cars consumers don't want.
But the administration says the rules give regulatory certainty to the nation's hard-hit automakers. When combined with previous standards, the administration said the new rules will nearly double the fuel efficiency of new vehicles in 2025 compared with new vehicles currently on the road.
"We're raising the bar and making sure that Americans are preparing for fluctuations in gas prices," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday.
The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates the standards could cut oil use by as much as 3.1 million barrels per day by 2030 - roughly the amount the United States imports from the Persian Gulf and Venezuela combined.
"Twenty years from now we'll be looking back on this as the day we chose innovation over stagnation," said Michelle Robinson, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' clean vehicles program.
Some Republicans complained that the rules were designed in secret and will increase costs and decrease vehicle safety. The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said he supports the goal of higher fuel efficiency but believes the rules were in place to appease the president's environmental allies.
"The administration drafted these standards in secret, strong-arming automakers and short-circuiting the deliberative regulatory process to achieve a purely political result, abandoning sound science and objectivity to appease its political allies in the extreme environmentalist lobby," Issa said.
New-car dealers support continuous fuel economy increases, said Bill Underriner, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association. But they remain concerned that the new rules, coupled with the administration's previous fuel economy regulations, will raise the average price of a new vehicle by as much as $3,000.
"This increase shuts almost 7 million people out of the new-car market entirely and prevents many millions more from being able to afford new vehicles that meet their needs," Underriner said. "If this rule suppresses new vehicle sales, achieving the nation's greenhouse gas and energy security goals will be needlessly delayed."
But both LaHood and Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said that savings from fuel efficiency almost always outweigh the increased cost of cars. Also, carmakers have been competing for customers who want more fuel-efficient cars, Jackson said. Manufacturers have responded with lower prices and investment.
Last month, Ford announced it would invest $220 million in the Michigan plant where it builds hybrid transmissions. Chrysler and General Motors have announced similar investments, LaHood said.
"I think we know the American people want more fuel-efficient cars," LaHood said. "That's why they're wildly popular right now. And the car manufacturers are responding to that."
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