WASHINGTON - May 23 - As the summer driving season begins this Memorial Day weekend, American families continue to struggle with the rise in gas prices resulting from America’s dependence on oil. Due to the President’s inadequate response to the growing energy crisis, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit today against the Bush Administration in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco. At the same time, the Sierra Club launched ‘I Want My MPG’ – a new web-based tool to help American consumers learn about how much they could be saving at the gas pump were the Bush administration to put existing fuel-saving technology to work by raising fuel economy standards.
The lawsuit announced today alleges that the Bush administration recently announced light truck fuel economy standards run counter to law. These standards could raise Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for SUVs, pickup trucks, and other light trucks by a paltry 1.8 miles per gallon by 2011 at best, and may actually erode the fuel economy of new vehicles sold in the United States—actually increasing our dependence on oil. This action is clearly much less than is both economically feasible and possible with existing technology— a violation of the law’s “maximum feasible” provision. According to the Bush administration’s own estimates, these new standards will save less than two weeks worth of oil over the lifetime of these vehicles. The Sierra Club believes that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – the Bush administration agency responsible for setting fuel economy standards – failed to follow the law by setting fuel economy standards below the technically feasible level. The Sierra Club joins ten states and other environmental groups in challenging the new standards.
"The Bush Administration failed to follow the law when it set miles per gallon standards for SUVs and other light trucks," said Pat Gallagher, Director of the Sierra Club’s Legal Program. “They underestimated the technologies and ignored important benefits, such as the ability to significantly reduce our global warming emissions.”
The new light truck standards abandon the existing fleetwide fuel economy standard and replace it with an easy to manipulate size-based standard. Under a size based system, automakers have a perverse incentive to evade more stringent standards by simply building bigger vehicles to qualify for weaker fuel economy standards—decreasing fuel economy from its already low present level.
“The light truck standards are long on political cover and extremely short on oil savings,” said Dan Becker, Director of the Sierra Club’s Global Warming Program. “Moving to a size based standard will result in a very meager reduction in our oil consumption at best, and will likely result in even more big gas-guzzlers on our roads.”
Undaunted by the severe shortcomings of its light truck fuel economy standards, the Bush administration has now gone to Congress asking for authority to make similar changes to the passenger car fleet. While the Bush administration has admitted in Congressional hearings that it has the authority to raise the current fleetwide average, it refuses to do so and instead is intent on a structural overhaul of the system. Legislation has already passed the House Energy & Commerce committee that provides the administration with this authority, but specifically refuses to actually raise standards. As currently drafted, this legislation will do nothing to save consumers money at the gas pump, curb global warming, or cut America’s oil dependence.
"Having just issued weak-kneed mile per gallon standards for SUVs and other light trucks, the Bush Administration now wants Congress to authorize it to create weak standards for cars, " said Becker. "The biggest single step our government can take to cut our oil addiction, save consumers money at the pump and curb global warming is to raise the CAFE standards for cars and light trucks."
While the Bush administration and Congress refuse to help American families by raising fuel economy standards, the Sierra Club has launched an education effort to tell consumers about the benefits of driving vehicles that get better fuel economy. This new ‘I Want My MPG’ website - www.sierraclub.org/mpg/ - allows consumers to input their own make and model to find out exactly how much money, pollution, and oil they could be saving if their vehicle used existing fuel-saving technology.
"If automakers used existing technology to make our cars average 40mpg, Americans would save over $100 billion dollars a year," said Dan Becker. "Americans can find out how much they'll save at sierraclub.org."
By raising CAFE standards to 40 miles per gallon, we’d save 3 million barrels of oil a day. That’s more than our daily fix from the Persian Gulf and the comparatively minuscule amount that we’d ever hope to get from drilling in the Arctic Refuge or off our coasts, combined. If we’d raised CAFE standards in 1990, when Congress voted it down, we’d be using a little more than half the gas we are today.