WASHINGTON (CN) – President Barack Obama unveiled plans Tuesday that would for the first time regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars while also increasing their average fuel efficiency from 25 to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016.
“Ending our dependence on oil represents the most difficult challenge we have ever faced,” Obama said.
The United States is home to only five percent of the world population, but it generates roughly a quarter of the world’s demand for oil. Oil makes up fully 20 percent of the money spent by the United States on all imports.
The proposed regulations would take effect in 2012, increasing fuel efficiency by an average of five percent each year until 2016, at which point new motor vehicles would average 35.5 mpg.
Cars and trucks produced in 2009 averaged only 25 mpg.
Every category of motor vehicle would become more efficient as a result of the regulations
“The sun is out because good things are happening,” Obama said while squinting into the rose garden filled with auto executives, members of his cabinet, governors and press.
In attendance were Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has pressed for higher emission standards, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, along with a host of auto executives and administration heavy weights.
Ten of the world’s auto manufacturers agreed to the standards, and Obama said a series of lawsuits will be dropped, as a result.
“Yes, it costs money to develop these vehicles,” Obama said. But he countered that while the cost of the car may go up, the cost of driving it will go down. It will pay for itself in 3 years and the average driver will save $2,800.
But these calculations are based on gas costing $3.50 per gallon, much higher than today’s price.
Obama argued that greater efficiency standards are needed now, and indirectly criticized those who whose “calls for action rise and fall with the price of a barrel of oil.”
At the end of his speech, Obama said that his hybrid Ford runs great and urged everyone to take a look into it, but as he walked away from the podium he turned around to say that other companies have been making good hybrids as well.
David Almasi, Executive Director for the conservative think tank the National Center for Public Policy Research, was concerned that hasty regulations would affect car safety. “The easiest way to hit targets is to make cars less safe,” he said, “to reduce the weight and to make them from flimsier materials.”
Comparing carmakers to children, he said that if a kid is told to have his room clean in 15 minutes, he’s going to “kick the mess under the bed.”
The proposed national regulations have after California tried and failed to reduce the carbon emissions of its cars while the Bush administration was in power. California was joined in that effort by 13 other states and the District of Columbia.
In an interview, Lisa Page, a spokesperson for California’s Governor Schwarzenegger, said that the waiver California requested from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2005 to regulate carbon emissions from its automobiles is similar to Obama’s proposition, but that the standards will be in place by 2016, instead of 2012, as California wanted.
Page said the four-year lag is worth getting the rest of the country on board, even though California has a staggering 40 percent of the nation’s cars.
When asked if the oil conserved by these new fuel efficiency standards is just a drop in the ocean or our national consumption, and whether more is planned to reduce our dependence on oil, Page mentioned legislation in California which would increase the proportion of biofuels in automobiles.
Biofuels, she said, are largely produced within the United States and hardly contribute to global warming because the carbon is cycled between the plants and the atmosphere, instead of being pumped from deep within the earth.