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Published on August 2nd, 2012 | by Silvio Marcacci


Fuel Efficiency Driving America Toward a Sustainable Environment (and Economy)

August 2nd, 2012 by  


As the federal government starts implementing an aggressive 54.5 mile-per-gallon (mpg) auto fuel efficiency standard, the importance of reducing gasoline consumption for a sustainable American economy and environment becomes clearer every day.

Combining Efficiency Standards and Fuel Fees

A new set of recommended vehicle efficiency standards and fuel fees from the ClimateWorks Foundation (CWF) and International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) reveals the route toward saving money and emissions. By continuously tightening vehicle performance standards and gradually increasing reasonable fuel fees, the report finds the United States could cut vehicle emissions 48 percent by 2030, while creating 190,000 jobs to build more efficient cars by 2020.


“As effective as performance standards and fees are when implemented as stand-alone policies, their complementary nature makes a combination of the two an almost textbook-perfect climate policy. Performance standards increase the fuel efficiency of the fleet, while high fuel and vehicle levies offset the resulting lower cost of driving and encourage consumers and manufacturers to pursue ever more efficient technology options.”

Potential reductions in global CO2 emissions

Recent results have shown increasing fuel efficiency works. The CWF-ICCT report found the current 35.5 mpg by 2016 standard, set in April 2010, is expected to reduce vehicle emissions by 18 percent while saving every car owner $3,000 over the life of their vehicle.

Higher Efficiency Targets, Stronger Economy

And even with automakers’ increasing efficiency, the American auto industry just set a new fuel efficiency record of 23.8 mpg, and has grown 24 percent while adding 150,000 jobs since June 2009, a trend described as “onshoring” by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “What critics miss about the wisdom of setting strong fuel efficiency standards is that manufacturers throughout the auto supply chain gain certainty for what innovative and efficiency-boosting products they should invest in,” said NRDC’s Ronald Hwang. Considering a recent Consumer Reports study showed fuel efficiency is the top concern for prospective auto buyers, the correlation between more efficient cars and increased sales isn’t a surprise.

According to the NRDC, if U.S. fuel economy standards are raised to 54.5 mpg by 2025, the economy will truly shift into gear. NRDC estimates that, by 2030, increased efficiency measures will create 484,000 new jobs, save drivers $125 billion dollars, cut oil imports by a third, and reduce emissions equal to removing 90 million cars from the road.

Internal Combustion in the Eternal Driver’s Seat

Finding ways to reduce gasoline use and emissions remains an incredibly important goal for policymakers, because for all the hope about hybrids and electric vehicles, the internal-combustion engine isn’t going anywhere.

A new study from the National Petroleum Council, a non-partisan committee established in 1946, concluded internal combustion would remain the dominant power source for vehicles until at least 2050. Fortunately, the council also found vehicles could become up to 40 percent more efficient using existing technologies.

These finding are important to keep in mind as the nascent electric vehicle industry develops. While President Obama estimated a million electric vehicles would be on our roads by 2015, plug-in sales are falling short of his target. Only 17,500 plug-in vehicles were sold across the U.S. in 2011, and Pike Research estimates 410,000 plug-ins will be sold by 2015. If this trend holds true, cumulative U.S. sales won’t reach one million until 2018. But even these modest goals pale in significance to the estimated 254.4 million registered passenger vehicles in the U.S. now, with roughly 13 million autos sold in 2011 alone.

So, considering all these factors, it’s clear that vehicles becoming more efficient holds incredible environmental and economic potential. What’s unclear is if the country’s political gridlock and well-funded oil interests could slam on the brakes. Here’s hoping progressive policy keeps us moving on the road toward a sustainable transportation future.

Fuel economy photo via Shutterstock 


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About the Author

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate policy public relations company based in Oakland, CA.

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