WASHINGTON (CN) – President Obama announced new fuel efficiency standards that will cap emissions for medium and heavy duty trucks for the first time. “I believe that it’s possible in the next 20 years for vehicles to use half the fuel and produce half the pollution that they do today,” Obama said Friday in a speech in the White House Rose Garden.
The announcement, made official by a presidential memorandum signed after Obama’s speech, extends current federal emissions standards to include medium and heavy duty trucks.
The nation’s fleet of freight trucks currently consumes 2 million barrels of oil a day, accounting for one-fifth of greenhouse gas emissions related to transportation, Obama said.
The president charged the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency with writing new rules for medium and heavy duty trucks beginning with model year 2014. The standards would carry through 2018 models.
The new policy builds on fuel efficiency standards Obama announced a year ago for cars and light trucks with model years 2012 through 2016.
Obama called for a “new and higher standard” for cars and light trucks starting in 2017 and extending to 2025.
Along with creating 700,000 jobs, Obama said the new standards also will decrease oil use by 1.8 billion barrels and cut nearly a billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the two-decade lifetime of the vehicles. That’s the equivalent of taking 50 million cars off the road.
The plan is also expected to save consumers $3,000 over the life of their cars.
Touting it as an “everybody wins” scenario, Obama said the new standards will reduce American dependence on oil and foster innovation and growth in a “host of new industries,” including battery technologies, electric grid technologies, and plug-in hybrid and electric vehicle markets.
Obama also said the policy will ensure that the United States is poised to lead in the global clean energy market.
Citing energy advances in China and Germany, Obama said, “These countries recognize that the nation that leads in the clean energy economy will lead the global economy, and I want America to be that nation.”
In a White House conference call, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said, “This moment is about the vision of an American auto industry and sector that is going to be world-leading in greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency…We’ll be making the cars in the future.”
Also during the call, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, “We need to seize the momentum following last month’s historic new fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards, and President Obama’s announcement … does just that.”
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said the announcement had big implications for her state.
“We are primed in Michigan to be the world capital for electric vehicles,” Granholm said.
“Instead of being viewed as ‘luddites’ resisting fuel economy standards, we want to be at the head of that trade,” she said.
Granholm said Michigan is interested in building all products related to electric vehicles, including batteries that will be the “guts” of the electric car market.
Obama praised the U.S. auto industry. “Instead of fighting higher standards, auto manufacturers are engaged in a race to meet them.”
He said the new policy aids auto manufacturers by creating a unified national standard instead of a “patchwork” of differing state standards.
“Over the next five years, we expect fuel efficiency standards in cars and light trucks to meet an average of 35.5 miles per gallon,” Obama said. Obama has said he wants to see fuel efficiency for passenger cars and light trucks to increase to 50 miles per gallon by 2027, an annual increase of 4 percent.
When asked if that goal was feasible, LaHood said, “We’re at the starting gate on this…We’ll figure it out.”
Jackson, who said she was heading back to the Gulf coast to help with the BP oil spill after the call, said the new fuel emissions policy was linked to the underlying problems posed by the spill. “Even though its not directly related, it certainly has relevance to our energy future,” Jackson said.
Obama he wants to pass a far-reaching clean energy and climate bill this year.