New US Gasoline Mileage Standards – Too Little. Too Late?

The Obama administration has issued new guidelines on gas mileage that will require automakers to meet a fleet-wide average of 35.5 mpg (miles per gallon) by 2016:

White House Issues New Gasoline Mileage Standards

That gallon of gas is going to get you a little farther. The Obama administration signed off on the nation’s first rules on greenhouse gas emissions Thursday and set new fuel standards that will raise current standards by nearly 10 mpg by the 2016 model year.

The so-called CAFE standards, issued by the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, cover cars and trucks for model years 2012 to 2016. Automakers will be required to meet a fleet-wide average of 35.5 by 2016.

The standards forthcoming under the ‘clean car peace treaty’ are a good deal for consumers, for companies, for the country and for the planet.
– David Doniger, of the Natural Resources Defense Council

Although the new requirements would add an estimated $434 per vehicle in the 2012 model year and $926 per vehicle by 2016, drivers could save as much as $3,000 over the life of a vehicle through better gas mileage, according to a government statement. The new standards also will conserve about 1.8 billion barrels of oil and cut carbon dioxide emissions by nearly a billion tons over the life of the regulated models.

(via NPR. )

That 2016 figure of 35.5 mpg translates out to 6.63 litres per 100 km (L/100 km), the standard way of measuring fuel consumption standards in much of the rest of the world.

To put the new US requirement into perspective, the 2008 standard for China was 5.7L/100 km – or 41.27mpg, almost 20% better than the US standard for 2016. Other studies put current Chinese mileage at 35.8mpg – so China has already surpassed the requirement that Obama wants to implement in 6 years. And Chinese officials have announced a new target of 42.2mpg by 2015. Europe is implementing a requirement for an even lower standard of 5L/100 km by 2012. So… the new requirement for the US fleet basically sucks.

China to Impose Stricter Gas Mileage Rules Than U.S.: “The president of China’s Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation has said that Chinese officials are drafting new mileage standards that would require an 18 percent improvement in fuel economy by 2015. New cars in China already average about 35.8 mpg and under the new rules, would be required to get 42.2 mpg by 2015. The new U.S. standards require an average mgp of 35.5 by 2016.”

With this kind of attitude on the part of one of the major players, it isn’t really surprising that the Copenhagen conference did so poorly. And as to that, a recent study has found that if the agreed-upon principles that came out of Copenhagen are followed, the world will experience a rise of 3 degrees celsius, rather than the 2 degrees which is seen as crucial if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change effects.

‘Paltry’ Copenhagen carbon pledges point to 3C world.
Pledges made at December’s UN summit in Copenhagen are unlikely to keep global warming below 2C, a study concludes.

Writing in the journal Nature, analysts at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research in Germany say a rise of at least 3C by 2100 is likely.

(via BBC News.)

Not only are these new US fuel consumption standards a case of too little, and possibly too late, but the Obama administration’s other efforts to face up to the challenge of climate change are being threatened by domestic politics – specifically, the increasingly nasty and brutish dispute over immigration:

Immigration row delays energy bill: “The high visibility roll-out tomorrow of proposed climate change legislation for America collapsed at the weekend after a Republican co-author threatened to withdraw his support for the bill in a row over immigration.

Democrats were forced to postpone the much-hyped unveiling, putting a core Obama mission in jeopardy and further complicating international efforts to reach a deal on global warming.”


No wonder the rest of the world is losing patience with American foot-dragging on climate change.

To convert between miles per gallon and litres per 100 kilometres, see Convert Fuel consumption, Miles per gallon (one of many sites that will handle this and other conversions for you).

For more information on mileage standards and fuel consumption, see Fuel economy in automobiles – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


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