Do new mileage rules go far enough?

A window sticker on a car, displaying manufacturer's mileage estimate.


Kai Ryssdal: Gas averaging $3.50 a gallon's a number that actually came out late yesterday afternoon. Clearly somebody in Washington's been paying attention.

The Transportation Department issued new fuel economy standards today, the first major changes to automobile mileage rules in 30 years.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sam Eaton reports.

Sam Eaton: Transportation secretary Mary Peters called the new standards "historically ambitious, yet achievable." By 2015, automakers need to reach a fleet-wide average fuel economy of just under 32 miles per gallon. That's a 25 percent increase over current levels.

Charles Territo with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says this first phase of standards puts automakers well on target to achieve Congress's longer-term goal.

Charles Territo: Automakers are committed to meeting the challenge. This proposal represents an important mile marker on the road to at least 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

But not everyone's applauding. Jim Kliesch with the Union of Concerned Scientists says the auto industry can do better.

Jim Kliesch: What we have here is a horse that charges out of the gate, but pulls up lame a third of the way around the track. The numbers look pretty impressive for the first three years or thereabouts, but then quickly fall off.

Kliesch says that steep falloff in year-over-year mileage gains after a promising start means the industry will miss its 2020 goal of 35 miles per gallon, but Kliesch says automakers could easily reach fleet averages of nearly 40 miles per gallon by the end of the next decade using only conventional technology.

Charles Territo of the auto industry disagrees:

Territo: These standards are being set at what the Department of Transportation believes is the maximum technologically feasible level.

...for the least cost, but Kliesch says the government is lowballing those costs, leading to less ambitious standards at a time when gas prices are soaring.

I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.
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