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Luke Tonachel’s Blog

National CO2 Standards Save Drivers Billions at the Pump, Cut Global Warming Pollution and Curb Oil Use

Luke Tonachel

Posted March 31, 2010 in Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming

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Tomorrow, the Obama Administration will announce the finalization of new CO2 tailpipe and fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks. The new vehicles meeting the standards will raise the fleet’s efficiency and give consumers more choices in the showroom that run cleaner and save money at gas pump compared today’s vehicles. Continuing to raise standards in the future will grow consumer savings and dramatically cut in carbon pollution and oil use.

The upcoming CO2 and fuel economy standards apply to model years 2012 to 2016. Compared to a fleet that meets existing fuel economy standards (27.5 mpg for cars, 23.1 mpg for trucks), passenger vehicles meeting the new CO2/fuel economy standards will cut oil consumption by about 1.3 million barrels per day (mbd) in 2020, which is equivalent to U.S. imports from the combination of Saudi Arabia, Libya and Kuwait in 2009. I calculated the oil savings by assuming that the MY2012-2016 standards are the same as those proposed by EPA last September, which are fleet averages of 295 gCO2/mi in 2012 dropping to 250 gCO2/mi in 2016.

Consuming less gasoline also means lower emissions of global warming pollution. Emission cuts occur at the refinery as fewer gallons are produced and at the tailpipe as fewer gallons are burned. In total, the 1.3 mbd consumption drop cuts global warming pollution by over 220 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent.

Cleaner, more efficient vehicles saves drivers money at the gas pump too. The Energy Information Administration projects retail gasoline prices of $3.34/gallon of gasoline in 2020. At that price, 1.3 mbd (or about 19.5 billion gallons per year) translates into $65 billion in savings at the pump in 2020.

Saving Even More in the Future

Continuing the trend established by the proposed standards beyond 2016 can lead to much greater oil savings. From 295 g/mi in MY2012 to 250 g/mi in MY2016, fleet average emissions standards drop by 3.8% per year. If just at a minimum we extend this trend to 2030, the new vehicle fleet would average 152 g/mi and we would save at least another 2 mbd. By 2030, we would be saving more oil than we imported from the Persian Gulf and Venezuela in 2009.

That’s not the limit, however. Recent analysis by the EPA as requested by Senator Kerry describes a technically-feasible scenario in which the new vehicles average just 100 g/mi in 2030, which would result in savings over 3 mbd.

Any way you look at it, putting cleaner vehicles on the road benefits our energy security and our environment.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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