ANNAPOLIS – New federal rules expediting stiffer mileage requirements for cars and trucks were finalized in Washington Thursday in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependency on foreign oil.
The rules, signed jointly by the heads of the nation’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency, move up energy goals established in 2007 requiring carmakers to meet a 35 miles per gallon average by 2020. The new rules require automobile manufacturers to meet a 35.5 mpg average for cars and trucks beginning with model-year 2016.
With the new rules in place, greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. vehicle fleet are predicted to drop 21 percent by 2030.
Maryland and 13 other states have already implemented a “Clean Car Program” requiring cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The more stringent emissions standards will begin in 2011 model-year vehicles instead of 2016.
Maryland’s program, which follows one established by California, does not include fuel economy requirements.
Brad Heavner, the state director for Environment Maryland, an advocacy group, said attempts to reduce car emissions in Maryland “goes back a long way,” referring to the first time legislation restricting vehicle emissions was introduced in the state by Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, in 1982.
Heavner said the new mileage requirement will save Maryland consumers $602 million at the pump annually by 2016.
For Frosh, who was the main sponsor of legislation that brought the Clean Car Program to Maryland, it has always been a goal to have the program become a national standard.
“(The program) initially reduced air pollution and in a more recent round dramatically reduced greenhouse gas emissions,” Frosh said. “The fact that it is going to be a national program is great for both Maryland and the United States.”
In a speech at Andrews Air Force Base Wednesday, President Obama said the new rules, which fall under the already established federal Clean Air Act, will save and protect 700,000 jobs nationally. He also noted that his administration would lead by example and committed to doubling the number of hybrid cars in the federal fleet.
The expedited standards represent the first time national rules have specifically required a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
A 35.5 mpg average does not mean every vehicle manufactured needs to average that mileage. Automakers need to make sure their entire fleet averages out to meet the new requirement, meaning gas-guzzlers can be offset by increasingly popular hybrid and electric cars.
Obama received support from auto executives, environmentalists and unions, who rarely agree on issues, but all found reducing greenhouse gas emissions necessary. The only concern from automakers was that a projected $1,000 rise in automobile prices would deter consumers, but the Obama Administration projects it will only take consumers three years to make their money back with expected fuel savings.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 1.8 billion barrels of gas will be saved between now and 2016 as the program ramps up, a savings Obama said is equivalent to taking 58 million cars off the road for a year.
Jesse Prentice-Dunn, a program assistant at the Sierra Club, said the 1.8 billion oil barrel reduction represents more than three times the amount of oil imported from Saudi Arabia by the United States each year.
“These rules that came out today are historic,” Prentice-Dunn said. “We’re seeing consumer savings and oil savings. It shows that the Clean Air Act works.”