Are Obama’s Aggressive New Ground-Breaking Fuel Standards Too Lax?

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In 2010 alone, the United States spent over $680 billion on oil imports – a number that contributed greatly to the country’s ever-increasing trade deficit.

Last week, President Barack Obama unveiled new fuel economy standards – considered by many to be his biggest environmental measure so far – that represent the hope of counterbalancing the trade deficit by greatly reducing the demand for imported oil as well as the pursuit of cleaner, greener fuel technologies.

By the new standards, fuel economy limits will ramp up to a minimum of 54.5 mpg by 2025 – a significant step in curbing emissions and decreasing the country’s foreign oil consumption.

“This agreement on fuel standards represents the single most important step we’ve ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said President Obama said at the plan’s unveiling at the Washington Convention Center on Friday. “We’ve set an aggressive target, and the companies here are stepping up to the plate.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), achieving this milestone would mean cutting US oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels a day – as much as half of the oil imported from OPEC each day.

It would also mean that by 2030, the United States’ annual fuel costs would drop by $80 billion while annual carbon emissions from vehicle tailpipes would be reduced by the equivalent output of 72 coal-fired power plants.

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According the White House spokesman Jay Carney, “[t]his program, which builds on the historic agreement achieved by this administration for model years 2012-2016, will result in significant cost savings for consumers at the pump, dramatically reduce oil consumption, cut pollution and create jobs.”

Surprisingly, Obama has seemed to won significant industry support for the nation-wide legislation, even as it would limit the state of California’s ability to set its own emission standards –  a right it has under the Clean Air Act.

General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Hyundai and Nissan all reportedly support Obama’s plan.

“Automakers really wanted to see a single national program, and we believe that the White House understands how much of an economic disruption would occur from multiple standards at the state and federal levels,” said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman at the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers. “So, we are moving one step closer to a single national program for greenhouse gases and fuel economy for the next 14 years.”

As is, the new fuel efficiency standards arguably represent the country’s best effort thus far toward reducing foreign oil dependence and combating climate change while affording private entrepreneurs in advanced vehicle technology the opportunity to put their ideas to practice within the auto industry – creating an environment of healthy competition that would create jobs in a down economy.

However, many on the “green” side of the equation seem to think that the legislation was far-too influenced by the auto industry.

For instance, the Obama administration “okay’d” several flexible compliance options for SUVs and other heavy vehicles that Detroit’s “Big Three” rely on for their biggest profits.

According to Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, “[T]he president’s proposal would be a significant acceleration in the fight against global warming and oil addiction but it was weakened by auto industry lobbying.”

“There’s some things we find encouraging and some things we find troubling,” added Roland Hwang, transportation program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “If there’s an agreement, we think at this point it’s up to the auto industry, we’re calling upon the auto industry, not to exploit loopholes that could undermine the consumer and pollution benefits.”

What do you think? Did the Obama administration allow the auto industry too much in concessions? Or are the new standards really a significant step in the right direction?

– Joe Ascanio, | Twitter | Facebook