The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation jointly proposed rules yesterday that will cut the average automotive vehicle's fuel consumption in half by 2025. The new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations will mandate average fuel consumption by cars and light-duty trucks of 54.5 miles per gallon (4.32 liters per 100 kilometers) by the end of this century's first quarter. According to a fact sheet issued by EPA, the new CAFE program "is projected to save approximately 4 billion barrels of oil and 2 billion metric tons of GHG emissions, with net benefits up to $451 billion."
The new long-term standards—the outcome of negotiations with major industry players, including car companies,labor unions, and environmental advocacy groups—build on tighter fuel-efficiency rules that the Obama administration issued in 2010 to govern the years 2012-2017, and they are promulgated under the authority courts have given EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the clean air acts. As the EPA fact sheet notes in a bulleted point—albeit one somewhat buried in the release—"On June 26, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals-D.C. Circuit upheld EPA's [climate change] Endangerment Finding and greenhouse gas regulations issued under the Clean Air Act for passenger vehicles and permitting for stationary sources."
Thus, the demanding CAFE standards are consistent with rules that the Obama administration has issued for stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions, which it has done generally in the name of protecting public health. The new mercury rule the EPA promulgated at the end of last year was a case in point: While its main explicit target was children's health, it would have the side effect of also discouraging coal generation and leading to a decline in carbon emissions. In a larger sense, the administration's stealth approach to climate policy has been an example of what climate specialists have called "no regrets" policy. The idea is to do things to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that make sense to do anyway.
When that kind of approach was first formulated fifteen or twenty years ago, at a time when the reality of global warming and the role of human action were open to dispute, it seemed not only sensible but adequate. Whether it is today, with evidence of human-induced climate change staring us in the face, is another question.
Image credit: Ford GTO concept car
correction: a reader has drawn attention to an error in the gallon/liter conversion that originally appeared with this story; 54.5 miles per gallon equals 4.32 liters per 100 kilometers, as now stated above