Higher fuel efficiency standards would help 'the economy as a whole'

Truth is, consumers and businesses would more than make up for additional vehicle costs in about four or five years with fuel savings.

If we all had vehicles that met a 60 MPG fuel standard, Americans would save an estimated $67 billion and reduce our gasoline consumption by 17 billion gallons this summer alone. The average American family would save more than $500 in just three months’ time.

Talk about a hidden car tax.

There are many other benefits to a 60 MPG standard too. It would reduce our oil addiction by at least 38 billion gallons per year by 2025. That would make us less dependent on foreign countries, less subject international crises and more secure as a nation.

It would cut at least 400 million metric tons of carbon pollution by the year 2030 – the equivalent of taking more than 100 coal-fired power plants offline.

Setting a 60 MPG standard also would encourage innovation and competition in the automobile market and create new jobs. That would help not just consumers and businesses, but the economy as a whole.

Already, rising consumer demand for more efficient vehicles is having an effect on the marketplace and our economy. Ford recently reported its best quarter in years, which it attributed to its decision to shift its production to more fuel-efficient models. As a result, Ford has said it plans to add 7,000 U.S. jobs over the next two years.

Fuel efficient vehicles hold their value better than others, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association. And in March (before the earthquake in Japan cut supplies) hybrids sales increased three times faster than other cars, according to statistics from Hybridcars.com.

Market demand dictates what sells, but without government fuel efficiency standards, think about where we might be today.

The first standards took effect in 1978, while the country was struggling with the aftermath of the Arab oil embargo. The average fuel efficiency of our automobiles back then: Less than 18 MPG. Imagine what it would cost to go back and forth to work, to go on a family vacation, to transport our nation’s goods if automakers were still producing vehicles that got that sort of mileage today.

Setting higher fuel efficiency standards, in fact, is the best alternative government has to reduce Americans’ fuel costs and our dependence on oil. Recently, the debate in Congress has focused on the false promise of expanding domestic drilling. But based on oil production projections from the Energy Information Administration, by 2030 we could save eight times more oil with higher vehicle efficiency rates than we could produce with more drilling.

Encouraging automakers to give consumers the cleanest, most efficient vehicles they can make is not a partisan political issue, despite the fact that Mr. Pyle blames “left wing pressure groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council” for advocating a 60 MPG standard by 2025. With every uptick in gas prices, a 60 MPG standard is attracting more political support from both sides of the aisle. In a recent Consumer Federation of America poll, nearly two thirds of Americans from across the political spectrum said they support a 60 MPG standard.

NRDC and others advocate a 60 MPG vehicle standard because reducing fuel costs, helping the economy and our environment, improving our country’s competitiveness, making the best products we can make and giving consumers more choices all seem part of the American way.

The Institute for Energy Research apparently advocates something else.

Roland Hwang is the transportation policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.