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July 07, 2011

The Devil Is Indeed in the Details

EV 002Earlier this year some automakers were feeling pretty boastful about their technological abilities to make cars that use less oil. Both Toyota and GM official saying they could meet a 62 mpg standard and that "the industry can do anything it wants when it puts its mind to it."

And then last weekend it was leaked that the Obama Administration was considering a 56.2 mpg vehicle fuel efficiency standard. Now we're hearing something slightly different from the auto industry. One GM official had this to say about a possible 2025 standards of 56.2 mpg:  "It is very challenging....But it's up to us as engineers to provide high value to the customer and support the environment."

Another GM representative added this: "We're willing to be pushed by a tough national standard," Greg Martin, GM's Washington spokesman, said in an interview. But he added: "The devil is in the details."

The "devil is in the details" is right and the details will determine whether a 56.2 mpg standard actually delivers oil savings and pollution reductions. The industry is pushing for loopholes that will turn a 56.2 mpg fuel efficiency standard on its head. Automakers want to be let off the hook by doing little in the early years of the standards with the promise to do more later. Details like these really are devils.

But here are some other details to consider: CERES, a Boston-based green business group, has concluded that the strongest standard the administration is considering (cutting pollution by 6% per year every year between 2017 and 2025) will create jobs by keeping our dollars in our economy instead of spending them on oil: We can create a net gain of 700,000 full time jobs for Americans in 2030 by cutting pollution 6% per year and hitting at least 60 mpg in 2025. The auto industry would gain 60,000 of these jobs. 

Another detail CERES finds is that strong standards will shift where we spend our dollars - billions can be spent on oil or spent on other things. A strong standard will yield $152 billion in fuel savings at the pump in year 2030 - pumping more than $150 billion from the oil industry into other places in our economy. CERES concludes that $59 billion of these savings will go to the auto industry through purchases of cleaner cars and $93 billion for the rest of the economy.

Oh, those devilish details - oil savings, job creation, consumer savings and whether or not President Obama meets his goals of cutting oil imports by a third or having a million EVs on the road will be decided by those details. 

But if we want a strong standard, we must have the right details - ones that cut pollution and improve efficiency consistently each year and guarantee that path from 2017-2025.  In 2030 a 60 mpg standard will save 2.5 million barrels of oil every day, allow consumers to spend $7500 that they might have spent on gas on other things, and keep 3.3 billion metric ton of global warming pollution out of the atmosphere and create jobs. 

We should not compromise now. A 60 mpg standard will put American innovation and technology to work and Americans will invest in that technology with every new car they buy.  The leaked number from the Administration 56.2 mpg standard will save less oil - but if the industry wins on its "details" we will all lose.  Fortunately there is still time to get this one right - help us send a message to the President with your photo and message on why we need to go 60 mpg.

-- Ann Mesnikoff, Director of the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign

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