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As Climate Crisis Worsens, New Mileage Standards Encourage More Gas-guzzling SUVs and Fail To Lower Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Vehicle Fleet


New vehicle emission standards finalized today by the Obama administration require only modest fuel economy improvements and will still allow total greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks to increase from 2017 through 2025 and over the long term.

The administration considered but rejected more climate-friendly standards -- including a rule that would have reduced total vehicle greenhouse gas emissions despite an increasing number of cars driving more miles -- even though they were technically feasible and cost effective. When various credits and "flexibilities" that reduce actual results are accounted for, the new national standards for 2025 are below standards the European Union, Japan and China have proposed for 2020.

"These standards ignore the urgency of the climate crisis," said Vera Pardee, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute. "Gas mileage will improve modestly over the next 13 years, but not enough to offset total emissions from an increasing number of cars driving more miles. It's especially unfortunate that the new rules again encourage automakers to put more gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs on the road."

The standards are said to reach maximum gas mileage of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. But once various credits and "flexibilities" are accounted for, the estimated mileage drops to less than 47 miles per gallon. Cars are commercially available today that meet and exceed this standard.

The standards also provide incentives to build more SUVs and heavier pickup trucks, expanding the SUV loophole. These vehicles consume more fuel and emit more greenhouse gases, yet the standards require lower efficiency-improvement rates for them as compared to cars. As a result, building SUVs and pickups will remain more profitable for manufacturers -- an incentive very likely to increase the number of SUVs and trucks on the roads.

"Cars and trucks are the low-hanging fruit in the fight to get carbon pollution under control, and the technologies to reduce emissions exist or are on the drawing board," Pardee said. "But the administration rejected a standard employing those technologies and instead incentivized SUVs and heavier trucks over cars. Automakers' profits may improve, but the climate crisis will get worse."

These final rules come despite a sobering report from the highly respected International Energy Agency warning that the door is closing on our ability to avert the worst impacts of climate change. The IEA has concluded that "[t]here are few signs that the urgently needed change in direction in global energy trends is underway." The flawed standards for the American vehicle fleet underscore that alarming assessment.

About 19 percent of total U.S. "carbon dioxide equivalent" emissions come from passenger cars and light trucks, equal to about 4 percent of global emissions. Available technologies to improve gas mileage and reduce emissions include more efficient and less-polluting engines and transmissions, strong but lightweight materials, improved aerodynamics, and hybrid and electric vehicles.

Current laws require the government to set fuel efficiency standards at the "maximum feasible" level and are designed to spur technological innovation by requiring that standards be set beyond what is achievable today.

"Setting fuel economy standards for 2025 that are lower than what we can achieve right now is not the kind of progress we urgently need," said Pardee.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

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