A Better Way to Cut Gas Consumption and Fight Global Warming

11/18/2010 04:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Environmental Protection Administration's report on gas mileage told us that the 2009 model cars and light trucks sold in the United States achieved the first substantial improvement in fuel economy since 1980.

No big surprise there: The country was struggling with the impact of the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. Buyers were shying away from pickups, SUVs and other gas guzzlers.

Yes, it took a recession to achieve the first big jump in mileage in 30 years. With the economy expected to inch upward, EPA is predicting a barely noticeable increase in mileage during the current model year.

But the good news is that new standards that EPA is considering that cut emissions 6% annually can improve the environment, energy security and automakers' health without a recession.

Notwithstanding the real improvement announced on Wednesday by the EPA, the United States has a long way to go to cut its oil addiction and the global warming pollution that goes with it.

Under graduated standards that begin in 2012, cars and light trucks sold in the United States must average 35.5 mpg by 2016, yielding a 5% annual cut in emissions.

For the next standards, running from 2017 to 2025, the EPA is considering emissions cuts in the range of 3% to 6%.

We need to increase the pace to 6% annual emissions reductions, bringing the average mileage to 62 mpg 15 years from now.

For the record: The EPA's annual Fuel Economy Trends report found that on average, fuel economy of 2009 models increased by 1.4 mpg, to 22.4 mpg, the highest ever achieved in the United States. But as light truck sales pick up again, it is forecasting an improvement to only 22.5 in model year 2010.

The improvement last year resulted from the recession-fueled collapse of SUV and other light truck sales. For the first time in decades, average weight and horsepower declined significantly.

The government study found that in 2009:

  • The sale of light trucks fell 8% compared with 2008. They made up 40% of the car-and-light-truck market in 2009.

  • Automakers produced vehicles that weighed 168 pounds less than in 2008, a 4% cut.
  • The 2009 vehicles were less muscular: Horsepower fell 5%.
  • The 1.4-mpg improvement was more than triple the 0.4-mpg rise during 2008, when gas prices reached historic highs.

    The EPA Report can be found at