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At a news conference including EPA head Lisa Jackson and Dept. of Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood, the Obama administration has unveiled a proposal to accelerate changes to the CAFE fuel mileage standards: requiring that auto and light truck fleets average 35.5mpg by 2016, four years earlier than previously scheduled.  And phasing in stronger fuel standards starting in 2012 is expected to prevent nearly a billion metric tons of CO2 pollution and save 1.8 billion barrels of oil.

When I was looking at new cars recently (only because of the cash for clunkers program), I found it depressing that fuel economy for compact cars looked a whole lot like it did when I was growing up in the 80's.  In fact, CAFE mpg standards have been stalled since the Detroit Tigers won their last world series during Reagan's first term.  The chart below (from wikipedia) shows actual mpg for cars (blue) and light trucks (green), along with inflation-corrected gas prices and a CAFE mpg plot in red that would make any cardiologist reach for a toe tag.  

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The new standards are expected to add about $1300 to the cost of new vehicles, but save the owner around $3000 over time.

CAFE standards, once set by Congress, now fall under the authority of the EPA based on the 2007 Supreme Court case brought by the state of Massachusetts.  And a quote of the day, from Mass. Representative Ed Markey:

"As someone who has pushed for stronger fuel economy standards for decades, the difference between then and now is like being stuck in stop-and-go traffic and hitting every green light on your way home,"

...though I think it's more like getting a helicopter ride after being found alive 25 years after your Winnebago crashed into a deep canyon.  

This move is apparently one part of the Obama administration's strategy to bolster its climate change record ahead of the important world climate summit in the windmill-mecca of Copenhagen, Denmark.  There is apparently some uncertainty whether a cap and trade bill can be done before this December conference (not to mention whether corporate and coal-state Dem. Senators will succeed in blocking it entirely).  But if a bill is still under debate, perhaps Copenhagen's publicity can provide the extra momentum to push it through.  That's all the more reason to get a good health care bill done soon - it's a critical issue, yet one of many.  And climate change won't wait until we're ready.

Originally posted to Frameshift on Tue Sep 15, 2009 at 03:21 PM PDT.

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