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Increased fuel standards a victory for environment, economy and New Jersey

titteljeff021110_optBY JEFF TITTEL
COMMENTARY

In the first major increase in vehicle fuel economy standards since 1975, the Obama Administration recently announced it will raise standards to 35.5 mpg by 2016. This is an important victory for our environment and economy. Making our cars more efficient is the most significant single action we can take to reduce greenhouse emissions, protect our planet, and save consumers billions on fuel costs.

This increase in the national standard is a product of the leadership of 13 states, including New Jersey, where we've been working towards clean cars for years. Decades of inaction on the federal level motivated California to pass the first state greenhouse gas standards. New Jersey followed suit in 2004, recognizing that increased standards would drastically reduce global warming pollution, make our nation's automakers more competitive, and save us billions of dollars on gasoline.

When New Jersey passed Clean Car legislation in early 2004, it was after a two year battle in which the American auto industry fought against raising efficiency of vehicles. Had they embraced cleaner cars then, maybe the industry wouldn't be in the shambles it is now.

These new, stronger standards are based on the legislation passed by New Jersey and represent a win-win for the state and the nation. They will have a measurable impact on both our economy and environment. As a result of increased standards:

  • New Jersey consumers will save 352 million gallons of gasoline in New Jersey alone, resulting in a savings of as much as $969 million.
  • We will save 20 times more oil than we would produce by drilling of the Atlantic Coast and clean cars don't put our beaches at risk or threaten our tourism industry.
  • Nationwide, nearly two billion barrels of oil will be conserved over the lives of the vehicles sold in the five model years these standards cover (2012-2016). This is more oil than we imported in 2008 from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Libya and Nigeria combined.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by 950 million metric tons nationwide, the equivalent of shutting down 247 coal plants or taking 181 million cars off the road for a year.
  • Automakers will move forward with innovative technology, such as turbocharged engines, lightweight materials, or continuously variable transmissions, which will make cars more efficient and increase fuel economy.

However, the ability to implement clean cars is contingent upon the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Despite numerous environmental and economical benefits, that authority is under assault by some members of congress, who are siding with big oil over the interests of the American people.

Senator Lisa Murkowski's Dirty Air Act (S.J.Res. 26), for example, would veto EPA's scientific finding that global warming pollutants threaten human health and the environment and effectively block the higher standards. Murkowski's amendment would strip the EPA's power to regulate CO2, causing a huge setback for clean cars in the United States.

Efforts to weaken the Clean Air Act put in jeopardy the progress on emission standards that are being applauded by environmentalists, automakers, and members of the labor community. The Clean Air Act is a landmark piece of legislation with a 40-year track record of protecting the environment and public health. Rolling it back would put the health of our people and planet at risk, enable our unsustainable dependence on oil, and forfeit an opportunity for our automakers to thrive and compete.

It is critical to our environment and future energy independence that increases in fuel economy are kept in tact and not dismantled by special interests and their allies. New Jersey has made it clear that fuel efficiency is a priority. Attempts by Senator Murkowski and others in Congress to strip our ability to regulate emissions would be a devastating blow to this progress. We urge New Jersey's congressional leaders to stand up against big oil by not allowing the Murkowski dirty air amendment to destroy our environment, and rob the American people of much needed savings on energy costs.

Jeff Tittel is the Director of the Sierra Club, New Jersey Chapter.

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