Range of experts extoll virtues of new rule at Capitol Hill forum

Source: Jessica Estepa and Jason Plautz, E&E reporters • Posted: Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The proposed federal fuel economy standards have garnered backing from a wide range of supporters, from drivers to small businesses, according to members of a panel who spoke yesterday on Capitol Hill.

Set to be finalized this summer, the Obama administration proposal would set a fleetwide 54.5 mpg corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard by 2025 (Greenwire, May 15). Interest groups promoted the benefits of the proposed rule during a panel sponsored by green investment firm Ceres and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

The BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labor unions and environmental groups, conducted a study about how the new standards could be good for the economy, said Rob McCullough, the group’s senior legislative and policy advocate. The group’s initial report found that the new standards could add up to 500,000 jobs — 50,000 in the auto industry alone.

That’s for two reasons: first, more people, from engineers to line workers, will have to work on creating cars that meet these standards, and second, less money will be spent on fuel and more will be spent in other parts of the economy.

The alliance’s final report is set to be released next month, ahead of the finalization of the CAFE standards, McCullough said.

According to polls conducted for the Small Business Majority, a nonprofit advocacy group, 76 percent of small business owners support the 54.5 mpg standard. Small business owners also favor switching to hybrid or electric vehicles for their car needs, group CEO John Arensmeyer said.

Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America handed out a fact sheet to the panel’s audience, listing reasons drivers should support the CAFE standard. According to the list, the standards would lower the total cost of driving, improve gradually over time, allow consumers to choose the vehicles and technologies they want, and make the auto industry stronger.

Ceres’ Carol Lee Rawn backed up Cooper’s point, saying automakers would see increased sales and profits by 2020. Suppliers for fuel savings technology would benefit, as well. According to research done by financial group Citi and Ceres, the standards would bring in an additional $2.44 billion by 2020 for U.S. auto companies, while the industry as a whole would get $4.76 billion.

“This is the most significant energy policy that America has adopted since I was stuck in those gas lines,” Cooper said, recalling the long lines at gasoline stations in the 1970s. “Here is a policy that really deserves the support it gets,” he said.

He called the automakers opposing the new rule “morons.”

Cooper said those who were opposing the rule were doing so for ideological, not practical, purposes — though some automakers cooperated with the Obama administration in crafting the new standards. The only legitimate debate about the proposal, he said, was whether the market would have eventually demanded the higher fuel standards on its own.

Standards could save 16B gallons of gas

Meanwhile, as yesterday’s panel went on, Environment America released a report that said the 54.5 mpg fuel standard could save Americans 16 billion gallons of gas if it were in place this summer.

The gasoline reduction would translate to the reduction of more than 146 million metric tons of air pollution and would mean an average savings of $551 per American family over the next three months, according to the report.

“Clean cars could help American families travel to the beautiful beaches, forests and other treasured places across our country this summer without creating as much of the pollution that threatens those very places,” said Environment America transportation advocate John Cross. “As hot as this summer is shaping up to be, the last thing we need is more oil burning in our cars and more global warming pollution heating up our atmosphere.”

The report analyzed existing vehicle miles traveled data and the impact of an increase in fuel economy on gasoline consumption and pollution based on data from the Energy Information Administration and Department of Transportation.

Further, the report says, better fuel economy is possible today because of the proliferation of plug-in hybrid and electric cars. Conventional engines also have the potential for better fuel efficiency through technology such as turbocharging, lightweight materials and better design.