AUSTIN– In a huge win for Texas’ environment, public health and energy security, the Obama administration today announced new standards for automobile fuel economy and global warming emissions. An Environment Texas analysis found that these new federal standards—based on the “clean cars program” developed by California and adopted by 13 other states—will save Texans 943 million gallons of gasoline in 2016 as compared to the previous federal standards, while reducing emissions of global warming pollutants and providing a net economic savings to consumers.
“Thanks to President Obama’s leadership, the cars of tomorrow will be cleaner and cost less to fuel than the cars of today,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “Today’s announcement is a huge step toward breaking our dependence on oil and tackling global warming.”
In addition to the significant expected gasoline savings, the new standards will also mean a reduction in global warming pollution in Texas equivalent to eliminating the pollution from 1,741,575 of today’s cars for a year, as compared with the previous federal standards. Reduced gasoline use is also expected to save Texas consumers $2.5 billion at the gas pump in 2016.
In 2002, California enacted legislation designed to reduce global warming pollution from automobiles. This resulted in rules to reduce global warming pollution from new cars and light trucks by 30 percent by 2016 compared with 2002 levels – a step that would result in improved vehicle fuel economy.
Frustrated with federal inaction to address automobile emissions and fuel economy, 13 states – Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington – soon moved to adopt the program.
"I welcome the new clean car standards, as they will lead to Texas families breathing cleaner air and buying less gasoline,” said state Senator Rodney Ellis, author of legislation which would have adopted the program in Texas. “President Obama must be commended for working with all of the stakeholders—from the auto industry to environmentalists—to bring Texans a new generation of cars that are cleaner and cost less to fuel."
Automakers and auto dealers, who opposed the program at the state level, challenged the program in court, while the Bush administration Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delayed a decision on whether to grant the waiver needed under the Clean Air Act for California and other states to implement the standards. Following the Supreme Court’s 2007 ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA that the agency possessed the authority to regulate global warming pollution, and two years after California’s initial request, the Bush administration EPA finally denied the waiver in December 2007.
As one of his first acts in office, President Obama instructed the EPA to reconsider California’s waiver request, which later resulted in EPA granting the waiver. In May, the Obama administration announced an agreement with the automakers and the state of California that enabled the creation of a single, national fuel economy/global warming emissions program for cars based on the California standards. The just-announced standards are the result of that effort.
The new standards are expected to reduce gasoline consumption by as much as 11.6 billion gallons per year in 2016 nationally—nearly as much as is consumed by all the vehicles in Texas in a year—and save consumers up to $31.8 billion annually at the pump in 2016. The new standard will also reduce global warming pollution from vehicles by 108 million metric tons per year in 2016, or as much global warming pollutions as is produced by 28 500-MW coal-fired power plants.
“The memory of $4 per gallon gasoline is indelibly etched in my memory, and that of many other Texans - and experts already anticipate that we'll be back to $3 per gallon this summer,” said state Representative Mark Strama, who also carried clean cars legislation. “High gasoline prices had a lot to do with triggering the recession from which we're struggling so mightily to recover. These clean car standards will increase our national security, protect our environment, and catalyze innovation in the automobile industry to the benefit of every Texas consumer.”
Despite the agreement between the Obama administration, automakers and California – and the fact that 80 percent of the public approves of stronger fuel economy standards for vehicles – the clean cars program still faces attacks. Senator Lisa Murkowski’s Dirty Air Act (S.J.Res. 26), for example, would effectively veto EPA’s scientific finding that global warming pollutants threaten human health and the environment – thereby blocking the standards. The companion resolution in the House – introduced by three separate sets of members, including the Republican leadership (H.J.Res. 77), Democrats Ike Skelton (MO) and Collin Peterson (MN; H.J.R. 76), and Republicans Jerry Moran (KS) and Marsha Blackburn (TN; H.J.Res. 66) – and three additional House bills (H.R. 391, H.R. 4396, H.R. 4572) also would block the clean cars program and otherwise undermine the Clean Air Act.
“Weakening the Clean Air Act would be one of the worst moves Congress could make for Texas’ environment,” said Metzger. “We urge Texas’s U.S. Representatives and Senators to let the country reap the benefits of these clean car standards by opposing any and all efforts to weaken the Clean Air Act.”