Tighter Fuel Efficiency Standards: How They Can Help Reduce Emissions Bush & Obama Advances on Greener Driving at Risk Under Trump

tighter fuel efficiency standardsIn the grand scheme, emissions from vehicles are only a drop in the bucket for carbon emissions. Even in America, which is usually touted as the road trip and SUV capital of the world, the total emissions relating to vehicles account for roughly 27 percent of the total emissions, of which over half comes from personal vehicle use.

Based on these figures, about 14 percent of the total U.S. emissions come from individual vehicle use, which is significant, but not overwhelming. This percentage is also much higher than it needs to be.

While the U.S. fuel economy standards have held steady between the mid-70s and 2007, they were given a shot in the arm by Bush and Obama-era legislation. Several changes were made during this time, including an empowered EPA capable of planning and enforcing fuel economy standards until 2025.

While the policy has widely flown under the radar, it has helped instigate tremendous stride in the fuel economy of new vehicles. The expectation — set at 34.1 mpg — is being met by cars rolling off the factory floor today.

The Plan

In 2007, President Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act into law, ensuring that fuel efficiency standards now follow an 18-year revision plan. The first phase of the plan — which ended in 2016 — attempted to boost fuel efficiency standards from their current levels of 25 mpg to a robust 34.1 mpg. Overall, this phase of the program has been successful, providing a 23 percent improvement in new vehicle fuel economy. Phase II, which began in 2017, aims to raise these levels to 54.5 mpg on average.

This comprehensive plan grew from an agreement between legislators, the EPA, and vehicle producers. The EPA spearheaded the environmental benefits of the program, while the vehicle producers saw the potential for a new marketing trend in pushing fuel efficiency. It’s important to remember that this progress emerged in 2007, during the height of the economic recession, as fuel prices were crawling towards $4.00/gallon. While prices have fallen once more, the program is still moving forward in its goals.

The Target

Some critics of the program have pointed out that other industries — including fossil fuel electricity and heating sources — comprise a much larger portion of American carbon emissions. Switching to alternate green energy sources has been seen as a much more proactive approach to the issue than simply targeting the fuel efficiency standards, which has a presumably much smaller impact. However, targeting fuel efficiency standards has a few major benefits over other revisions.

First, it is much easier to implement. Though it might have been a product of the hard economic times, automobile companies, the EPA and legislatures were all able to agree on the fundamental importance of increasing fuel economy in vehicles. This type of cooperation rarely happens, as government entities — such as the EPA — often act as market regulators for corporations, butting heads on certain standards and occasionally forcing corporations to comply. This groundwork of cooperation has allowed for a smooth transition through Phase I of the plan.

Second, for the consumer, it is a win-win situation. EPA standards normalize higher fuel efficiency, necessitating that companies follow stringent new standards. When buying a new car, fuel efficiency no longer requires a higher price, and the consumer saves money at the dealership and the pump. While some light trucks and SUVs have been hit hardest by these new standards, and some models are no longer available, the overwhelming benefits of this legislation outweigh any negatives for most Americans.

Ultimately, increasing fuel efficiency exists at the critical junction of ease and importance. It is a relatively low cost for the people, who will not be paying more for increasingly fuel-efficient cars. Likewise, it’s surprisingly easy to pass the legislation when both the government and the private sector are on board. Increasing fuel efficiency can have a modestly significant effect on the nation’s fuel emissions. Doubling the fuel efficiency standards for most vehicles by 2025 will reduce U.S. emissions by up to or exceeding five percent.

Finally, the boundaries of fuel efficiency are fairly flexible. For the individual, increasing fuel efficiency is always best: It both saves money on gas and reduces emissions. By mobilizing the public, even greater strides can be made. Vehicle maintenance, for instance, can massively increase fuel efficiency.

This is true for both personal vehicles and work vehicles, such as trucks, heavy machinery and other equipment. General maintenance such as replacing spark plugs, fuel filters and cabin air filters can all aid in better performance and fuel efficiency. So informing the public and businesses about the benefits of regular maintenance can lower the cost of owning their automobile or equipment. And that’s something everyone can get behind!

A Trifecta

Of all the initiatives and commitments to the climate change struggle made by the U.S., increasing fuel efficiency has been the most effective. It is aided on all three fronts: public, corporate, and government. The coordination among all the branches has been nothing short of miraculous. Increasing fuel efficiency saves money, sells cars and protects the environment, benefiting all involved.