New fuel-efficiency standards show Washington can work, Obama says


WASHINGTON — Set against the continuing stalemate of
the debt ceiling, President Barack Obama on Friday hailed agreement on
an ambitious increase in auto fuel-economy standards as evidence that
compromise and progress are still possible.

The agreement, which Obama called “the single most
important step we’ve ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on
foreign oil,” was hammered out in weeks of negotiations involving
automakers, environmentalists, unions, White House officials and the
state of California.

By 2025, the landmark deal calls for cars and light
trucks to achieve a fleet-wide average of 54.5 miles per gallon, only
slightly less than the 56.2 miles per gallon that the administration had
pushed for. The new standard will be phased in beginning in 2017.

Taking exemptions and other provisions into account,
actual mileage may be about 42 mpg for cars with significant lower
requirements for light trucks, including minivans, SUVs and full-size
pickup trucks. Still, the standards demand a substantial leap from the
2011 model year average of 27.8 mpg.

Flanked by auto executives and union leaders as he
stood before a collection of gleaming new vehicles at Washington’s auto
show, Obama said, “This agreement ought to serve as a valuable lesson to
leaders in Washington.

“You all are demonstrating what can happen when
people put aside differences. These folks are competitors. You got labor
and business. But they decided, ‘We are going to work together to
achieve something important and lasting for the country.'”

“This agreement provides the regulatory certainty we
need to design and build fuel-efficient vehicles during the next 14
years,” Alan Mulally, chief executive of Ford Motor Co., said in an
emailed statement. “We are absolutely committed to continuously
improving the fuel efficiency of all of our vehicles.”

The United Auto Workers backed the agreement, too,
convinced it would help create jobs. Said UAW President Bob King: “There
is business opportunity in meeting consumer demand for relief at the

Gov. Jerry Brown of California hailed the agreement,
saying it provided a strong counterargument “to the powerful tea party
conservative Republican ideology that wishes to strip away the role that
government performs. It’s regulation that will advance the well- being
of the country by encouraging technological innovation.”

The environmental community was divided. Many groups
backed it as a significant step toward reducing oil consumption and
greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change. Some, however,
criticized it for allowing a slower pace of improvement for light

“While the president’s proposal is a significant
acceleration in the fight against global warming and oil addiction, it
was weakened by auto industry lobbying,” said Dan Becker, director of
the Safe Climate Campaign, in an emailed statement.

“Automakers have seeded it with loopholes that weaken the oil, pollution and gas-pump savings,” he said.

The new pact builds on an agreement the government
and car companies struck two years ago that mandated a sharp rise in gas
mileage for cars and light trucks from model years 2012 to 2016.

This time, auto companies pushed for a small
improvement in mileage to 40 miles per gallon but eventually agreed to
the tougher standards. In the end, they accepted the higher standards,
in part, because they would be allowed to improve fuel efficiency at a
slower pace in their light truck fleet during the first five years of
the new agreement.

Light trucks are among the industry’s best sellers.

Despite the continuing wrangle over the debt ceiling, Obama managed a joke in the announcement ceremony on fuel efficiency.

Smiling as he took the lectern, he asked the car
companies to make sure they produce a car that has a maximum speed of 15
miles per hour and includes an ejector seat for boys — for the day his
daughter Malia gets a learner’s permit.


(c) 2011, Tribune Co.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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