05/19/2009 05:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Road To Slashing Emissions

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, Ryan Powers, and Pat Garofalo

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Today, President Obama will unveil "the first-ever national emission limits for cars and trucks," a move that Sierra Club President Carl Pope says is "one of the most significant efforts undertaken by any president, ever, to end our addiction to oil and seriously slash our global warming emissions." Daniel Becker of the Safe Climate Campaign calls it "single biggest step the American government has ever taken to cut greenhouse-gas emissions." The Obama administration will also raise fuel efficiency targets so that by 2016, cars and light trucks will have an average mile requirement of 35.5 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2016. For 2009 model cars, the average fuel efficiency is 25 mpg. "The projected oil savings of this program over the life of this program is 1.8 billion barrels of oil," announced a senior administration official on a conference call with reporters last night. "The program is also projected to achieve reductions of 900 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions under the life of the program. That is equivalent to taking 177 million cars off the road or shutting down 194 coal plants." Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Daniel J. Weiss called today's announcement a "triple play" because it will "help move America off foreign oil, save families money, and spur American businesses to take the lead in developing the job-creating, clean-energy technologies of the future."

CLEANER, MORE FUEL-EFFICIENT CARS: In 2006, cars, light trucks, and other vehicles accounted for nearly 24 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, with 94 percent as carbon dioxide. Today's announcement stems from a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that said President Bush's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had violated the Clean Air Act by failing to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. The Obama administration plans "a tailpipe emissions standard of 250 grams per mile for vehicles sold in 2016, roughly the equivalent of what would be emitted by vehicles meeting the mileage standard. Vehicles sold in 2009 are expected to emit about 380 grams per mile, industry sources said." As a result of these new emission limits and mileage standards, "cars and light trucks sold in the United States will be roughly 30 percent cleaner and more fuel-efficient by 2016." In yesterday's White House press briefing, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that today's announcement would help end the American "crisis" in the "emission of dangerous greenhouse gases" and "our dangerous dependence on foreign oil."

GOOD NEWS FOR STATES: Under the Bush administration, states fought to impose tougher vehicle emission standards on their own. But in 2008, the White House pushed EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson -- against the advice of EPA staffers -- to deny California a waiver that would have allowed 16 states to implement these landmark reductions. Basically, the Bush administration refused to regulate greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously forbidding other states to do so on their own. The Washington Post reports that "[s]ources close" to the Obama administration say it will now be issuing California a waiver at the end of June, but state officials have agreed to "not exercise it in light of the new national standards," which are very close to what California had proposed. Even more important, California's stringent plans for a 30 percent reduction in emissions will now be extended to the rest of the country. While California made modest concessions in today's deal, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) called it "good news for all of us who have fought long and hard to reduce global warming pollution, create clean energy jobs, and reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil."

A BROAD COALITION: At today's announcement, the Obama administration will be joined by "groups that are normally aligned against each other," as Gibbs told reporters yesterday. There will be environmentalists, state officials such as Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) and Jennifer Granholm (D-MI), union officials, and industry executives. "It launches a new beginning," added David McCurdy, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. "The president has succeeded in bringing three regulatory bodies, 15 states, a dozen automakers and many environmental groups to the table." In fact, the auto industry plans to drop all lawsuits challenging stricter emission standards because the Obama administration's plan provides "the single national efficiency standard they have long desired, a reasonable timetable to meet it and the certainty they need to proceed with product development plans." But McCurdy told The Progress Report that national standards are only the first step. The next steps require "a comprehensive mix of support for new technologies, investment in infrastructure, and smart regulation." "After all, it's going to take a lot of efficient vehicles to make a dent in total emissions," he added. "So, we hope politicians will commit to providing real incentives that enable consumers to quickly adopt those newer, more efficient vehicles."